Sunday, September 27, 2009

SAG: Four Hardline Horsemen in the National Board Room

Thursday’s SAG election was a victory for the moderate coalition. Yet, strangely enough, the leaders of the losing hardline faction will all find seats on the national board, and will continue to be a shadow government within the union’s Hollywood board—a board on which none of the key moderate leaders will be voting members.

Yes, the moderates (Unite for Strength (UFS) / USAN / RBD / independents) won the national offices – President and Secretary-Treasurer – and picked up additional national board seats and many on the Hollywood board as well. But with SAG, the story is never simple.

In fact, paradoxically, 1st VP and failed Membership First presidential candidate Anne-Marie Johnson will probably continue as 1st VP, ex-president Alan Rosenberg will almost certainly be back on the national board in a matter of days despite winning only an alternate seat, MF leader David Joliffe will probably be on the Hollywood board and effectively on the national board, and MF leader Kent McCord continues on the national and Hollywood boards.

Meanwhile, none of the key moderate leaders will be on the Hollywood board— Unite for Strength leaders Ned Vaughn, Assaf Cohen, Ken Howard and Amy Aquino are all off of that board, at least as voting members (the latter two will serve ex-officio, as non-voting members). Tough independent and former presidential candidate Morgan Fairchild remains, but she’s not a member of the UFS slate and thus doesn’t occupy a leadership position in that group. UFS-ers Adam Arkin and Amy Brenneman also remain, and perhaps will emerge to fill the gap.

How could the election yield so much change in the national offices and so little in the Hollywood Division? Here’s the scenario [UPDATED: Para. 3 is new.]:

1. The moderates seemingly have 27 seats on the Hollywood board out of 55 (because 27 = 6 seats pre-election plus 21 additional seats won in the election). That’s a tad less than half (49%). It would seemingly take peeling off one more vote from MF for the moderates to control the Hollywood board.

2. However, look closer. One of those 6 pre-election seats was held by Ken Howard. Under the SAG Constitution and By-Laws, a national officer can’t also be an elected member of the national board or a Divisional board. So, the day he became president, Howard lost his elected seat on the national and Hollywood boards, and, indeed, his name has been replaced on SAG website listings with “(1 TBD).” That leaves the moderates with 26 seats on the Hollywood board out of 54. That’s less than half by an even greater margin (48%). Now it would take 2 more votes, rather than just one, for the moderates to control the Hollywood board.

3. But, when it comes to electing officers (such as 1st VP) or selecting replacements for the Hollywood and national boards, the news is even bleaker for moderates. That’s because the Hollywood Division Rules of Procedure specify that for such purposes, the only Hollywood Division board members who can vote are national board members (or alternates sitting in for them) from the Hollywood Division. There are 32 such people (33 minus the vacant Ken Howard seat). The moderates control only 9 of those seats, whereas MF has 23.

4. So, Membership First controls who the Hollywood board elects, unless 8 MF-ers break ranks. If that doesn’t happen (and it’s not likely), then MF will fill the TBD vacancy. Whom will they select? Almost certainly Alan Rosenberg, whom they would elevate from national board alternate (which is the office he won on Thursday) to full national board member from the Hollywood division.

5. Thus, although Rosenberg’s presidency was so discredited in many members’ eyes that he couldn’t even win a board seat, he’s likely to end up with one anyway. This would take place at the next Hollywood board meeting, which is scheduled for October 5.

6. Elevating Rosenberg leaves his alternate seat vacant. So, MF would then vote to appoint its longtime leader David Joliffe as a national alternate (and Hollywood board member). That effectively appoints him to the national board, because one or more of MF celebrity board members (which include Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Elliott Gould and Ed Asner) will usually be absent from national board meetings.

7. MF will also presumably vote to appoint newly reelected board member Anne-Marie Johnson as 1st VP (the VP office from Hollywood) and thus as Divisional chair, to the extent that she doesn’t automatically continue in these offices (note that the updated SAG website still lists her as 1st VP and divisional rules say that the 1st VP is also the chair). This is possible because Johnson ran for two seats in this election—president, but also, as a backup, national board member. She won the latter.

8. As a result, MF will have skilled leadership as voting members in the Hollywood board room, namely, all four of its core leaders: Johnson, Rosenberg, Jolliffe and, continuing on the national and Hollywood boards, Kent McCord.

9. In contrast, Unite for Strength will have none of its leaders as voting members in the Hollywood boardroom: Ned Vaughn and Assaf Cohen didn’t win seats on the Hollywood or national boards, and Ken Howard and Amy Aquino, as national officers, are non-voting, ex officio members of the Hollywood board, as well as the NY and RBD (Regional Branch Division) boards. One wonders whether Howard and/or Aquino will be able to find time to attend every Hollywood board meeting. In any case, their formal roles would be very circumscribed; under the Constitution and By-Laws, they’re not even allowed to make motions or “initiate any other parliamentary procedures.”

10. Note also that the Hollywood board gets to appoint the Hollywood members of the TV/theatrical contract negotiating committee, if there is one, and that Hollywood has a majority on that committee. That suggests that negotiation will once again have to be handled by a task force appointed by the whole board, not by a committee appointed on a Division by Division basis. (It’s unclear to me whether the task force appointed earlier this year is still in existence.) Unless, that is, SAG and AFTRA are able to reestablish joint bargaining under the Phase 1 agreement.

11. Remember too that it was the Hollywood board that passed a resolution expressing the goal that SAG “acquire actors of AFTRA,” i.e. in some mystical fashion divesting AFTRA of its actors and absorbing all of them in SAG. Anne-Marie Johnson ran for and won a seat on the AFTRA board—despite saying it was distasteful to run—giving her an internal platform for this goal as well. We can expect MF to seek to terminate the anti-disparagement agreement so that the Hollywood board will be free to express its anti-AFTRA views without financial repercussion to SAG.

Bottom line: SAG’s byzantine governance structure and geographical divisiveness will once again facilitate disunity. Among other things, the question becomes, will SAG and AFTRA be able to reestablish Phase 1 joint bargaining? The divided governance certainly makes it harder.


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  1. but MOST IMPORTANT BOTTOM LINE? without the use of an sav or the will to strike (and believe me, the people we just elected have NO will to strike) the amptp will continue too push for lower costs and higher revenues, you know, like BUSINESSMAN DO.

    so, the next couple of years will tell us if ken howard’s platform, which we never really even got to hear him fully describe, or defend, since he wouldn’t take any tough, spontaneous questioning, let alone debate anne-marie johnson, consists of anything more than “be nice to aftra, be nice to the dga, be more reasonable with the amptp, and, if we can attain that kind of status going into the tv/theatrical negotiations in oct 2010 for the 2011 contract, sag will be, if it hasn’t merged with aftra by then, in a much better position to achieve major, major concessions from the amptp: a percentage of distributors gross, across all platforms, at the very least in new media, so we have a fair piece of the pie no matter when or how they ‘monetize’ the internet,” which they are hard at work doing, although it is not an easy road for the amptp to figure it out quite yet – they will – bet on that.

    ken howard will have to get back clip consent: did anybody watch “60 minutes” tonight (sunday, sept 27th) and see the piece on the uber-agent in indianapolis who represents hundreds of dead celebrities, because prior to his creation of the business in the 1980’s, all profit from the use (misuse) of their images, did NOT go to their heirs or their estate. it went in the pockets of ruthless businessmen making a buck off the image, voice, reputation, merchandising, etc., of a dead celebrity.

    now, think about that. it was apparently difficult for the sag membership to understand the importance of clip consent, so the moderates signed a contract giving it away (the 2009 tv/theatrical contract) yes, whether you are a celebrity of not, you very well may find yourself either in some extremely humiliating use of your image, or some extremely lucrative use of your image, and you will not be paid a dime, and you will not have the power to stop the producers from doing it. same with product placement protections. they are now gone. so, you can and will be asked to shill for products in character in a tv or film role, and if you say “no” – unless you are a powerful celebrity, they will simply get someone else. if you say “yes,” and you also make a living doing commercials, and conflicts between tv and film endorsements you had to do for free, take away your ability to audition for those products in your commercial career, you are sh*t out of luck.

    the new media terms are so ridiculously low, that, in october 2010, negotiating forward from them will be meaningless. I have a friend who just received his first internet residual. this is a well known and respected actor. it was for 3 cents.

    this is a long, long screed. but I think it’s important to put out there publicly, what happened, how we got here, and how slim the chances are the ken howard administration will be able to get us out of it.

    and we only have ourselves to blame.
    Comment by Matt Mulhern

  2. then, finally after, a ham-fisted coup attempt, the moderates pulled off the firing of the n.e.d., doug allen and the muzzling of sag president (twice elected sag president) alan rosenberg, by use of a little used and NEVER BEFORE used for such an important matter (because alan rosenberg went on record repeatedly saying he thought it was “undemocratic”) way of ousting the current government, in the middle of a negotiation with the amptp – “written assent.”

    the moderates don’t comply with the rule of written assent , which is “ALL national board members must be alerted and sign the document,” but, rather, only have the national board members sign it they KNOW will vote to fire doug allen and muzzle alan rosenberg. somehow, this passes muster with duncan crabtree-ireland, sag council, and despite an outside lawsuit, at least thus far, the judge feels the majority rules argument trumps the “they violated both the letter and the spirit of the sag constitution and california labor law” argument brought by alan rosenberg, doug allen, diane ladd, and anne-marie johnson. they appeal is still pending.

    the election looms, seymour cassel, despite being convicted of sexual harrassment of 4 female sag staff members, stays on the ballot for president via a motion introduced by richard masur pushing his appeal to october, and ken howard is elected president. had cassel not been on the ballot, anne-marie johnson would be president of sag now. there have been theories of why that is not a forgone conclusion, but, I believe, when you look at the numbers it’s clear: take cassel out of the race, anne-marie johnson wins going away and is president of sag.

    mf has been very effectively vilified, although the truth is actually much like the situation president obama finds himself in now: elected on a wave of populist sentiment demanding change, promising change, and yet, where are we? we have republicans AND democrats facing constituents who are going wobbly regarding passing comprehensive health care change with a public option to lower private costs, and NOW the public is beginning EVER SO SLOWLY to turn on obama, because they aren’t that interested in the fact that if he doesn’t get the support of the congress to do what the american people elected him to do, well, the congress can make him look weak and vulnerable and powerless. much like the moderates did to alan rosenberg and doug allen. without the votes of the national board, you cannot challenge the amptp in any united, strong manner, the minimum requirement to withstand the intense pressure the amptp, representatives of multi-billion dollar conglomerates, can bring to bear.

    bottom line? WE MAKE THEIR PRODUCT. also bottom line? STRIKES TAKE A TOLL.

    matt mulhern

  3. and, of course, the 800 pound gorilla, was the new media terms of the coming 2008 tv/theatrical offer. once it became clear what they actually were, and doug allen, other top staff, and alan rosenberg, anne-marie johnson and other top officers were able to really, deeply, analyze the potential impact of those new media terms on the sag middle-class actor, I STILL think alan felt it would be a very sell-able pitch to convince the membership and the national board, that sag was being threatened in a new way, potentially the biggest single threat of it’s existence, and sag needed to get united as quickly as possible and get out there and explain to their membership why it was such a threat, how it could end residuals, that the top executives who stated ending residuals as their goal in the ny times in the summer of 2007, were, in fact, deadly serious, and sag would, unfortunately, need to get ready to fight the contract off, and replace it with a fair one, and that that effort would most probably take at least an sav, and very possibly a strike.

    then came the wga strike, with sag actors joining forces under the “the wga’s fight is sag’s fight” banner, then john wells, colluded with the dga and the amptp, the dga swooped in, made a terrible new media deal DURING the wga strike, the wga, under extreme pressure from its top show runners, folded, and what was left, was a barren wasteland of deep discontent for strike, a growing anger at sag for not settling with the amptp from other unions, including the teamsters and iatse, and a growing sense that sag had been outflanked somehow, and needed to fold as soon as possible and live to fight another day, damn the consequences of codifying such terrible new media terms as the starting point for future negotiations.

    then aftra, our phase one bargaining partner of 27 years, took a series of beefs – bloc voting and the question of proportionality of the tv/theatrical negotiating committee, the supposed raid on the “bold and the beautiful” soap, which, of course, turned out to be completely false, according to the actress who had the actual meeting, susan flannery, with doug allen and alan rosenberg, who told her they sympathized with her complaints about what a terrible union aftra was, but they could do nothing, and she had to take it up again with aftra.

    these beefs got the “we hate sag, and we LOATHE MF, aftra members with sag cards community” into a frothing rage. but, to the apparent relief of all, sag and aftra made a deal in front of then afl-cio president john sweeney, to let the water flow over the damn for a united 28th year of phase one bargaining at the tv/theatrical negotiations.
    cut to months. MONTHS, of former supporters, moderates who realized at THAT EARLIER time, they needed to publicly cover their own asses and vote to support sag, slowly realizing there was perhaps a major opportunity to undermine sag, delay sag, vilify alan rosenberg and doug allen, as “too hardline,” to the detriment of the average sag member, AND, the real prize, perhaps, with a little luck, so weaken sag as the membership grew more and more frustrated at working under the terms of the 2005 contract, as aftra went right out and began screwing sag by poaching what normally would have been a season of mostly sag pilots, that they just MIGHT be able to pull off a merger somewhere not too far down the line, between a nearly prostrate sag and a ravenous aftra, on aftra’s terms. yummy!

    matt mulhern

  4. my admittedly recent close observation (4 years?) of sag politics tells me, that rosenberg came in on a wave of “get tough and get a good dvd rate” sentiment. I believe alan sought an outsider, doug allen, and grilled him on his unionist philosophy, and found, literally, an extremely intelligent giant and former nfl linebacker, who was going to pursue the truth: of aftra malfeasance, of the mistake of merger – as far as another attempt, of the need for a strengthening of sag solidarity to a common purpose, basically, that, at the bargaining table, the amptp had one objective – cut costs.

    I also believe rosenberg actually thought that he could use his powers of persuasion to go to every single branch (except one as it turned out) as well as, of course, ny, and convince the officers and members of that branch, that a tough stance was needed, that we could achieve great things if we stuck together, and that, of course, we needed to prepare for the distinct possibility of an sav or a strike.

    personally, I believe that’s when rosenberg became a lame duck. it took a long, long time, but once he uttered those words, over half the membership turned against him.

    not right away. there were votes, and those votes indicated, that, despite the blog bitching and the rumor and innuendo, when forced to go on the record, the national board was supporting rosenberg in unanimous or near unanimous numbers.

    I really believe, and from eyewitness testimony, I have heard, alan believed it was essentially a no-brainer, and he would never face the kind of pushback he eventually faced, resulting in official muzzling by his own national board and pariah status.

    as a friend heard alan rosenberg say, on more than one occasion, with absolute certainty, “there’s no way we can sign this contract.”

    I think alan felt he needed to be truthful – absolutely truthful – with the membership and so, he empowered doug allen to go out, do a bunch of research on some third rail issues that we needed to get past, and then print in the sag magazine, for instance, the statistics of aftra poaching, deceit and hostile behavior. I actually think they thought they would be in a better position, if they just printed the facts and put it out there on the table for the entire sag membership to see. I think they thought there would be a collective “holy sh*t!” from sag members when they actually saw the information regarding aftra’s behavior and how it was continually threatening and undermining sag.

    I think alan really believed, as well as doug, that making the simple observation that, while aftra performed 5% of the work, at that time, on the tv/theatrical contract, aftra having 50% of the negotiation seats was clearly an imbalance that needed to be addressed. 5% of the work. 50% of the say. makes sense to question that, yes?

    why? because the practical result of the imbalance was, every time there was a tv/theatrical negotiation, sag wanted to accomplish certain things, and aftra always pulled back, using it’s inherent veto power via its 50% of the seats, and sag ended up with weaker and weaker contracts.
    matt mulhern