Panic in Needle Park?


Panic seems to be setting in at SAG Headquarters these days at least among the dominant Membership First faction.

It’s two months since the union’s most important contract expired.  So for the first time in SAG history actors who are working – and there are widespread reports that production has slowed to a trickle – are working without a ratified union contract. 
Now word comes down that a contract with the advertising industry that had already been delayed once because the union was unable to tackle the impact of new media has been delayed again because the union is distracted by the ongoing elections and the stalled negotiations with the Producers over the Film/TV contract.
One would think that would be bad enough. But the real source of the panic seems to be the fear among the Membership First leadership that controls SAG that their days may be numbered.  I say this not because I have any unique insight into the voting process or possible election results.  
But rather because I was personally the subject of an odd attack over the last couple of days from Membership First itself via one Arlin Miller, a voice over actor who runs a website called SAG Watchdog. Anyone who has the stomach can read through the exchanges here.
Miller is known for his crude rhetoric and insulting caricatures of his targets. But people hold their nose and pay attention because he is actually a stand-in for the key leaders of Membership First including David Jolliffe and Kent McCord.  So if you want to know what the inner circle of MF is up to, you read what “Miller” has to say on his blog or on the various list serves.  Most of the rhetoric is harmless even useless but sometimes you learn a thing or two.
So as I say I was the latest target of Miller’s abuse.  This is rather odd since I have not been up to much lately as school is starting and I have been rather busy on my other blog, Global Labor, with the US presidential race. But I wade in every once and a while to the debates over SAG strategy and tactics on those list serves.  
Out of the blue the other day, according to Miller, I wrote a secret memo to the Guild leadership more than two years ago and then billed the Guild $75,000 for it.  
Of course, if it were secret and the property of the Guild two things should be obvious: 
1) Arlin Miller, who holds no Guild office, would presumably not have a copy; and 
2) If the Guild did not pay me for a memo then they should have, although not necessarily $75,000.  
So what’s the problem?
As it turns out, and is widely known among Guild activists, I did have lengthy discussions with the Guild two years ago about becoming their National Executive Director and while those negotiations fell apart – not a rare event in executive searches – I did, in fact, prepare a memo summarizing my view of the negotiations and, more importantly, my view of the strategy that the Guild should implement to succeed in their upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.
My strategy was very different than the one the Guild decided to adopt.  They hired Doug Allen, an ex-linebacker from the Football Players Association who was number three in their organization, behind their higher paid General Counsel and Executive Director Gene Upshaw, who recently passed away. 
Although in the number 3 role at the NFLPA for 20 years and a Vice President of the AFL-CIO it is fair to say that Allen did not cut a very wide swath during his tenure there.  In NFL circles he is somewhat infamous for having crossed a players strike picket line in his rookie season and somewhat more favorably known for heading up Players, Inc., the union’s licensing arm.  
Unfortunately, Players, Inc. is now the defendant, along with the Players Association, in an upcoming trial in federal court charged with diverting millions of dollars from retired players to pay Allen’s and Upshaw’s salaries.
The strategy that Allen and Membership First put in place at SAG has led to the problems with negotiating successful contracts that I mentioned above.  And thus we are brought full circle back to the question of my strategy memo.
After I prepared the memo I wrote a letter to Guild President Alan Rosenberg and I included in it in a list of things I had done for the Guild during the long drawn out discussions about the NED role and asked the Guild to compensate me for my time and expenses during that process, including my legal expenses. 
The strategy memo can be read and downloaded here, the letter here and the invoice to the Guild here.
Normally I would not post information related to my billing practices, but it is quite amazing how things seem to get distorted as one nears the force field surrounding people like Arlin Miller and Membership First.  For example, as the letter indicates rumors were floated around that I had demanded an “outrageous” salary from the Guild to be their NED.  
In fact, it was the Guild that started the negotiations with a proposed salary of, believe it or not, $100,000 per year!  Even MF stalwart Frances Fisher was taken aback when I told her about that idea. Eventually they upped the offer to $275,000 and I countered with $650,000, with my personal aim to end up somewhere near the salary paid the previous NED which was between $400,000 and $450,000.  Indeed when Alan Rosenberg and I reached an agreement it was for $450,000.
Understandably, the Guild agreed to meet some of what I asked for in my July 2006 invoice but certainly not all.  I decided not to pursue the matter but as my letter makes clear the situation was far from an ordinary executive search.  As a board member of a public corporation and a corporate lawyer I have been around lots of those and they typically take up about 1/10th as much time as the SAG process did.
You could be forgiven, again, for asking at this point, so what?  
Indeed.  That is what I asked Mr. Miller. But I never got a response.  
Instead I got what I called a version of that child’s game of “telephone” where someone inside the Guild leadership – presumably Alan Rosenberg since he was the one I to whom I addressed the letter – told someone else about it and that person told someone else and that person told Miller, who then wrote that I had been paid $75,000 for a secret memo and that I had then made the memo available publicly.
Apparently Miller thinks it a crime that a lawyer and law professor asks to be paid for his time.
Of course, the memo was never private, the Guild objected to paying me for it, and, as one can readily see from their failed sense of strategic direction, ignored my advice!  They certainly never paid me $75,000 for it and I never asked them to do so.
Fair enough.  
Membership First controlled the Guild then and does now. They had a different strategy in mind.  It has been an abject failure but they were free to try it.  Why pay me to develop a different approach.
So why Miller’s ad hominem attacks?  
Well, the only theory I can piece together is that Membership First finally has realized that the SAG membership recognizes the mistake they made voting MF into office and now they intend to vote them out of office in the ongoing national elections (results are due on September 19).  Since the current NED is tied at the hip to Membership First, presumably a new leadership would fire him and recruit a new NED.  
Thus, what Miller and co. are really up to is attempting to scare, harass or prejudice anyone reasonably competent whom the new leadership might want to recruit as a new NED.  That would not include me, of course, since I can’t imagine the Guild would be interested after all this time, I doubt that my strategic advice would be the way they want to go and my own life is very different now than it was two years ago – all of which I have explained when my name has come up on some of those list serves I browse now and again.
But MF, nonetheless, seems intent on sending a message to any other potential candidate about how they will make life miserable for anyone who dares to lead SAG in a new direction.  And they also intend to signal any SAG members who might replace them in national office that they intend to make their lives miserable, too.
It is a kind of scorched earth policy as MF goes into retreat.  
It’s not pretty and I was finally forced to explain to Mr. Miller that if he continued to distort the facts and imply that I had somehow breached a (non-existent) non disclosure agreement with the Guild that he could face what I termed “appropriate action.”  
That seems to have stopped him for the time being but his crude behavior serves as a warning about the level of decay that has set in at what is one of our country’s most visible labor organizations.  I have been in and around the labor movement for thirty years in a variety of capacities, and in the corporate world for many years, too, and I have never quite seen behavior like this.
Like I said, panic is setting in – no doubt whatever is not tied down at SAG HQ will fly out the door with the departing party, much like the Nixon White House. It’s a sad chapter in our labor movement and if there is indeed fresh leadership there in a few weeks, they will have their work cut out for them.  On this Labor Day weekend, we can only wish them god speed.