Slates of candidates for the SAG board of director elections were announced yesterday as well as the names of several independent candidates. The slates include the incumbent group Membership First as well as the new challenging group, Unite For Strength. Among the prominent independent candidates for the board is Morgan Fairchild who currently serves on the board and is the only non-Membership First figure from the Guild’s dominant Hollywood Division. Ms. Fairchild has been endorsed by the Unite For Strength slate as has independent candidate Susan Boyd Joyce.
But a controversy has emerged in the wake of comments made by Membership First advocate and former SAG 1st Vice President Anne-Marie Johnson. Johnson maintains that the elections will not matter because the Guild’s negotiating committee, currently in a stalemate with the Producers, cannot change its members until 2011.
Thus, Ms. Johnson maintained in an interview with USA Today, “So it really doesn’t matter what happens” in the upcoming elections. When you put this comment alongside SAG President Rosenberg’s suggestion that it was disloyal of candidates to contest for SAG board seats while contract negotiations are underway it begins to look like the strategy of Membership First to hold on to power is to discourage the exercise of union democracy not encourage it.
However, a review of the SAG Constitution and By-Laws suggests that Ms. Johnson has misstated the situation. While a SAG Negotiating Committee is in place to represent Guild members in contract talks with the Producers, according to the Constitution it serves at the pleasure of the Guild’s National Board.
Article V of the Constitution and By-Laws states that “the general management and the control of the affairs, funds and property of the Guild shall be vested in the Board of Directors which is the highest governing authority within the Guild.”
This same Article enables the Board to “establish any other committees which shall serve at its pleasure” and also allows the Board,with some exceptions, to “delegate any of its powers and duties to any committees, which delegation shall be revocable by the Board of Directors at any time.”
However, each Division of the Guild, according to Article VI, has “the authority to select…any members, alternates or co-chairs (if applicable) of any other committees which have been allocated to the Division. Other than the Vice President and any members of the National Executive Committee, members, alternates, and co-chairs so selected may be removed by the Division Board at any time….The National Board may remove any committee member, alternate, or co-chair by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Board.”
Apparently the 2/3 rule was a recent change to the Constitution, reflecting the desire of the Hollywood Division – now controlled by Membership First – to retain influence in the national body.
Thus, a change in control of the Division Boards could lead to a change in the membership of the Negotiating Committee by a Division and change in control of the National Board could lead to a change as well. However, it would require 2/3 to enact a change at the National level.
Of course, nothing in the Constitution has changed the ultimate power of the board – by simple majority – to delegate, or not delegate, power over negotiations. The board could, by a simple majority vote, revoke the power it has granted to any negotiating committee and conduct negotiations itself because that committee, however its members are constituted, serves “at the pleasure” of the National Board.
The Board can also, of course, by a simple majority, hire and fire the Guild’s chief negotiator, its National Executive Director Doug Allen. In fact, it is not allowed to delegate that authority. The Constitution and By-Law state: “The Board of Directors has the final exclusive authority, and may not delegate that authority, with regard to the following matters….all decisions regarding the employment of a National Executive Director, including the decision to appoint or terminate that executive….”
Since Allen serves at the pleasure of the board as does the current negotiating committee, if a new National Board was not happy with the conduct of the negotiations it could fire Allen and dismiss the negotiating committee by a simple majority, conduct negotiations directly with the AMPTP, reach a resolution, send it out for ratification and if it were approved it would be legally binding.
Prior to this year’s negotiations, of course, the Constitution and By-Laws included the terms of the Phase One agreement with AFTRA which also made clear the power of the National Board. According to Phase One, SAG’s representatives to the Joint Negotiating Committee were “to be selected by, and responsible to, their respective Board of Directors and to the Joint Board.” The Joint Board was made up, collectively, of all members of the boards of both SAG and AFTRA.
As is becoming clear the two slates have very different approaches to contract talks. Although both agree that actors need to make significant efforts to protect their earnings and other rights during the transition to a digital environment, Membership First’s “go it alone” strategy has failed to secure a new contract with the Producers, leaving SAG members without the protection of a union contract for the first time in their history.
Unite For Strength, on the other hand, is pledging to find ways to increase Guild leverage by working more closely with other unions in the industry.
That means the upcoming SAG Board elections will likely be critical for the resolution of the current negotiations.