Dog Bites Man – Actors Union Hires Employer Rep as New Leader

135558-actors-equity-logo_largeActors’ Equity is continuing a rather unfortunate trend, hiring a former labor representative for their employers to head up the union staff as national executive director.

Thus, Equity is mimicking SAG where four out of the last five NED’s have come from former gigs on the side of management.

In case you are counting, in turn, SAG hired: former Disney exec and Getty Trust trustee John Cook (he quit the chaotic organization before the ink was dry on his new business cards), Bob Pisano who came from prior gigs at MGM, Paramount and the studios’ go-to LA law firm O’Melveny and Myers and then headed up the MPAA, the studios’ lobbying arm, and Greg Hessinger who came from AFTRA but had started his career at CBS and now once again works as a management side lawyer.

Their current NED, David White, worked for producers in his own law firm just prior to being hired by the Guild and started his career at O’Melveny and Myers working under Pisano. He did, however, serve a stint as SAG General Counsel, when Pisano brought him over to the Guild.

The motivation of the guilds is in some ways understandable. Management side representatives have professional skills and industry knowledge that can be difficult to find in the ranks of labor side staff. Very few actors are willing to give up their careers to serve as union staff, so there is a limited ability to groom leadership from within as happens in many other unions. Given SAG’s recent disaster with the one union staffer they did hire, Doug Allen, one can see the potential attraction.

But this approach is fraught with potential problems. The basic instincts that one needs to lead a union are fundamentally different than those found in management professionals. In addition, those who represent management in labor negotiations have very narrow skill sets that do not necessarily help unions develop the strategic vision that must be at the heart of a successful labor movement.

Equity has been in a period of turmoil for several years and there is hope the new appointment will stabilize the union, a situation similar to that found in SAG. SAG is being tested first as their NED is, as we speak, leading his first full round of contract negotiations. The compromises he helped engineer at the very tail end of the last negotiation in 2009 may or may not hang over his approach this time around. Until the news blackout on negotiations is lifted (or breached) we will have to wait and see.

2 thoughts on “Dog Bites Man – Actors Union Hires Employer Rep as New Leader”

  1. Never thought I’d see the day…

    Major Announcement: For the most part, Tom Ligon and I agree with respect to Ken Orsatti and to S.A.G.’s losing trained staff members to Management.

    And having worked very closely with David White, during the time he was S.A.G.’s General Counsel, I can honestly say I know him, and like him.

    However, with respect to Doug Allen, whom I also know and like, personally, in my opinion, Doug was simply ‘a fish out of water’.

    The Entertainment Industry is a ‘family business’. Doug was not a ‘family member’ who was ‘known’ to Management. To be fair: The choice to go with someone from ‘the outside’ might have worked in S.A.G.’s favor had the Guild not been so divided, internally; politically, and philosophically, speaking.


  2. Just so you know, Steve, the parade of staff BOTH TO AND FROM management and our performers’ unions has been going on for decades. It’s always been painful for me to see our talented staff that we have trained and taught go over to management. Unfortunately, it happens that way more than the other.

    The most successful of our NEDs, Ken Orsatti, rose though SAG staff ranks over four decades. Too bad it can’t always be that way. You realize, Membership First didn’t like him anyone than they liked anyone – except for Doug Allen! Did I put an exclamation mark there? Doug came up through labor also, but the only thing I have to say about him is “OH MY GOD, WHAT A MISTAKE!”

    Orsatti said the wisest thing I have ever heard from a union NED:
    “I have always had the conviction that I would do everything possible to work toward a deal before calling a work stoppage. It’s very easy to put your members out on the streets. It’s not so easy to get them back off the streets.”

    It happens both ways, Steve – AEA is neither “continuing” a trend nor “mimicking SAG.

    Too bad there aren’t more Orsattis.

    Our current SAG NED, David White IS NOT FROM MANAGEMENT in any way shape or form.

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