In a clear sign that the failed collective bargaining strategy put in place by SAG President Alan Rosenberg and National Executive Director Doug Allen is of deep concern to many in SAG, a new opposition group has emerged within the Hollywood stronghold of the Membership First party that backs Rosenberg and Allen.
I was interviewed by Bloomberg News here about this important new development.
A statement by the new Unite for Strength group described in the Los Angeles Times late this afternoon makes the “bungled current contract negotiations” the centerpiece of their effort to unseat Membership First in SAG’s national board election that starts in late August and runs until late September.
While only a third of the union’s 71 member board is up for re-election in September, the majority that Membership First holds is narrow and so any challenge undermines their power within the union.
SAG President Rosenberg is not up for re-election until the following fall but if the board shifts to a new group it could lead to a change in top staff at the Guild in order to begin the process of charting a more effective course for the union.
The emergence of the Unite for Strength slate suggests that the “go it alone/last in line” “strategy” put in place by Allen and Rosenberg was a mistake. Historically, SAG has tried to avoid being whipsawed by the Producers by engaging in joint bargaining with its sister union, AFTRA. But this year, SAG made an all out attack on AFTRA including an unprecedented campaign against the ratification of its sister union’s own contract with the producers the heart of its strategy.
The result has been that for the first time in SAG history, SAG members are working without the protection of a union contract. The union now risks the imposition by the Producers of their last offer which contains terms that are unsatisfactory to many members.
Among the members of the proposed Unite for Strength slate are Amy Brenneman and Ned Vaughn. They were among those who led an effort earlier this year to discuss a reform in the manner in which SAG’s collective bargaining agreements are ratified. Currently, SAG allows every one of its 120,000 members to vote on major collective bargaining contracts, even if those members have never worked under the contract up for approval. Such an approach is almost unheard of in the U.S. labor movement.
The SAG Constitution, however, calls for voting by those “affected” by a particular contract not the entire membership.
Supporters of the full membership vote rule, including SAG President Rosenberg, defend it by saying that many actors aspire to work under a particular contract and should therefore be allowed to vote on it. Rosenberg has also recently alleged, apparently without any concrete evidence, that a reform to the voting process would be racist.
Ironically, or inexplicably, considering your viewpoint, Rosenberg’s attack on the AFTRA contract was based in part on an argument that AFTRA allowed some of its members who do not work under the contract to vote on it.
The current SAG leadership prevented the voting reform idea from being discussed at all earlier this year at a Board meeting and that is likely feeding the dissatisfaction of the new opposition group. Prominent actors such as Meryl Streep and Charlie Sheen backed the idea of reconsidering the voting rules.
The emergence of the slate makes it a near certainty that contract talks will be delayed until after the results are in, which happens in late September. Membership First will now be reluctant to agree to a deal that would confirm the failure of their strategy.
Most likely that will be fine with the Producers as it allows them to extend the current contract terms and thus saves them money. A vote for the new slate likely would signal quick resolution of the bargaining process, probably on terms close to those agreed to by the other major talent guilds.
Of course, the long term strategy that SAG needs to put in place to avoid the debacle they are now experiencing will be a serious challenge for any new leadership. Ned Vaughn is quoted in the group’s announcement as follows:
“If we’re elected, we’ll end the senseless war against AFTRA and work to create a united front of actors to fight for more working opportunities and better jobs. We believe that will ultimately require merging the two unions, and that’s a goal we’re all pledged to pursue.”
That seems like a positive start to turning around the drifting SAG ship.