Actors’ 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.