Battle lines drawn for SAG Weekend Board Meeting

battlelines1Variety is confirming today what I had surmised a week ago – that the moderate SAG alliance that now controls the Presidency and has a national board majority may attempt to forego a genuine search to replace the ousted NED Doug Allen and offer Interim NED David White the gig on a longer term basis.

But the moderates will be opposed in this attempt by the now minority group Membership First. Doug Allen had been brought in by MF from his #3 position at the troubled Football Players union after I withdrew from the NED search process in 2006.

White, in turn, was hired in the wake of the shake up in Guild leadership late last year when moderates gained a one seat majority on the board. White served as the Guild’s General Counsel under Bob Pisano in the early 2000’s.  Both Pisano and White came over to the Guild from positions at the studio-side law firm O’Melveny and Myers in Los Angeles.

White served as general counsel of the Guild but then quit once Membership First took control after the ouster of Pisano and then Pisano’s hand picked successor Greg Hessinger. White went on to set up his own firm that like many who leave the Guild advised producers about the labor union’s contracts. The firm was bought by Marc Dreier, who turned out to have built his empire on money raised by fraudulent means. When Dreier’s fraudulent scheme collapsed in late 2008, White’s firm was forced out of business and had its assets frozen.

White and long time advisor to SAG John McGuire were handed the reins of power in the wake of a now infamous 28 hour SAG board meeting that led to an impasse. The new SAG majority used an unusual written assent procedure – currently under court challenge by MF – to oust Allen and install White.

Since White was hired without the normal vetting process of a full on NED search there will likely be intense debate this weekend about the process. White and McGuire also led the negotiations which included an important concession to the producers that mandates that SAG enter into early bargaining with the AMPTP, the producers association, now led by Carole Lombardini, who replaces long time AMPTP exec Nick Counter.

That early “good faith” bargaining must start in October of next year and take place for six weeks. It is understood that that concession along with a concession on force majeur payments was granted by the Guild in order to secure a 2011 contract expiration date more or less coincident with the expiration of the contracts of other entertainment industry unions, like the WGA, DGA and AFTRA.

However, the early SAG obligation to bargain may undermine the potential for unity of action among the guilds. In any case, the moderate forces are likely to use the fact that the bargaining must begin relatively in the near term to pressure Board members to simply hire White by a simple vote this weekend.

White has little outside political or trade union experience other than his service under Pisano and it is not known what kind of strategy or plan he is proposing for the Guild leadership to succeed in the upcoming contract talks.

3 thoughts on “Battle lines drawn for SAG Weekend Board Meeting”

  1. During the time Pisano served as the CEO of the Screen Actors Guild, it was my strong sense that the more experienced AFTRA negotiator, Greg Hessinger, since he seemed to do most of the talking in public, was probably first chair when it came to AFTRA/SAG Phase I Joint contract negotiations.


  2. Certainly any organization of SAG’s size and complexity “normally” goes through a thorough search to find the best person for the job particularly the top staff position like NED.

    It appears to me White has as many or more years on the side of management as he does working as the guild general counsel, which is in fact his only union experience. It is actually very unusual outside of SAG to see top union execs end up working for management. That is not necessarily bad and it is not necessarily bad to pick White, but I think it is not unreasonable that there will be a debate about this. And there is certainly a case to be made for the Guild to engage in a wider search to get the best person.

    Here is one possible suggestion: assuming the board is happy with the strategic plan that White describes to the board this weekend, offer him another one year deal. That was one idea I floated in 06 as a way to avoid the understandable concern about severance payments in case things did not work out. Then judge how things go after the October bargaining round. Of course, it requires a certain amount of trust and flexibility on both sides.

  3. The key words you use here, Steve are: “without the normal vetting process of a full on NED search.”

    Surprise! There is no “normal vetting process of a full on NED search” in the history of SAG.

    Perhaps the most “normal” aspect of the situation is the similarity of the backgrounds of White and Carole Lombardini – except for the fact that Lombardini’s background is management-oriented and White’s is union-oriented.

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