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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Thursday, September 24, 2009

SAG Moderates Win Presidency, Secr. + Additional 4 Natl Seats

In a victory for the SAG moderate coalition (Unite for Strength / USAN / independents), the UFS candidates for president, Ken Howard, and secretary, Amy Aquino, won the union's national offices.

However, the election was close: Howard's total was slightly less than the two hardline candidates added together (Anne-Marie Johnson and Seymour Cassel) and Aquino's was slightly more than that of incumbent Connie Stevens. So the union is still very divided, and Howard acknowledged that the results were not a landslide and that the union is very divided, while saying that he planned to reach out to MF supporters.

On the national board, the moderates showed strength as well: They picked up 4 of 11 seats in Hollywood and held all of the NY and regional (RBD) seats. I estimate that this brings the moderate's board majority to around 60%, vs. 40% for MF, but that's a very rough calculation and I'm not sure at this point.

On the Hollywood board, the results were more dramatic: 21 of 33 Hollywood board seats went to the moderates. Added to the 6 they (and independents) already control, that's 27 out of 55 - just shy of 50%.

UFS spokesman Ned Vaughn said he expected to see SAG and AFTRA jointly negotiating wih the studios next year. Howard said he'd reach out to AFTRA and the other guids. On the subject of merger with AFTRA, Howard disputed claims from 6 years ago that merger would hurt SAG members' pensions.

The challenge for the moderates is to build a record of accomplishment, hire David White on a permanent basis, build relations with AFTRA and other guilds/unions, pick up more seats in next years' July-Sept elections, then go into negotiations with the studios Oct. 1 (2010, i.e., next year). After that - work on merger. A tough road ahead.

SAG Press Release:


Guild Also Announces Results of National Board Elections

Los Angeles (September 24, 2009)—Screen Actors Guild today announced results of elections for its top two elected positions. Ken Howard will serve as Screen Actors Guild president and Amy Aquino will serve as secretary-treasurer. Both will serve two-year terms beginning September 25.

Ballots were mailed to 99,485 paid-up SAG members on August 25, and 27,295 were tabulated today, for a return of 27.44 percent. Presidential candidates Ken Howard received 12,895 votes, with Anne-Marie Johnson coming in second with 8,906 votes, Seymour Cassel got 4,838 votes, and Asmar Muhammad received 402 votes.

“I’d like to be among the first to extend my heartfelt congratulations to our newly elected Screen Actors Guild national leadership. I look forward to working closely with our new president, Ken Howard, and new secretary-treasurer, Amy Aquino, as we focus on the wide range of critical issues facing our members in the coming year,” said SAG Interim National Executive Director David White. “I also extend my thanks, and the gratitude of SAG members and staff to Alan Rosenberg and Connie Stevens for their service and sacrifice on behalf of our union.”

“I am deeply honored to be chosen by the membership to lead the Screen Actors Guild,” said Ken Howard. “I campaigned on the promise that I’d do everything in my power to strengthen our position at the bargaining table by building a greater unity with AFTRA and the other entertainment unions, and that’s exactly what I intend to do. Despite the sharp differences that those of us active in Guild affairs sometimes have over strategy and tactics, we need to continually remind ourselves that we’re all on the same team, fighting for the same thing — and by pulling together, we’ll only grow stronger.”

“I am truly honored that the members have entrusted me with this responsibility,” said Amy Aquino. “Progress has already been made toward strengthening SAG’s finances and I want to make sure it continues. Only by fortifying SAG in this way can we hope to ensure the protections that performers need in these challenging times.”

Screen Actors Guild also announced election results for the National Board of Directors. Twenty-two of the 69 national board seats were open for election this year, representing Screen Actors Guild’s Hollywood, New York and Regional Branch divisions.

“It is my privilege to welcome and congratulate our newly elected Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors for 2009-2010,” said White. “Along with our staff nationwide, I look forward to working with them to pursue a robust agenda as we navigate the Guild through these changing times.”

The National Board members elected today will assume office on September 25 for terms of three years.

SAG’s Hollywood Division elected eleven National Board members; the New York Division elected four National Board members; and seven National Board members were elected from the union’s branches in Chicago, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Philadelphia, Portland and San Diego.

National Board members elected from the Hollywood Division: Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Elliott Gould, Ed Asner, Anne-Marie Johnson, Connie Stevens, Diane Ladd, Dulé Hill, Hill Harper, Nancy Travis, and Marcia Wallace (all three-year terms).

The following were elected to serve as National Board alternates and to the Hollywood Division Board of Directors (all one-year terms). Gabrielle Carteris, Jenny O’Hara, Michael O’Keefe, Clyde Kusatsu, Dawnn Lewis, Doug Savant, Michelle Allsopp, Alan Rosenberg, D. W. Moffett, Joe Bologna, Robert Hays, Jason George, L. Scott Caldwell, Clark Gregg, Patrick Fabian, Bill Smitrovich, Ellen Crawford, Stacey Travis, Mandy Steckelberg, Renee Taylor, Bernie Casey and John Carroll Lynch.

National Board members elected from the New York Division: Sharon Washington, Monica Trombetta, Sam Freed and Liz Zazzi (all three-year terms). Additionally, New York Division members elected Mike Hodge as NY Division President.

The following were elected to serve as national board alternates and to the New York Division board of directors (all one-year terms.) Manny Alfaro, Sheila Head, Marc Baron, Joe Narciso, Jay Potter, Dave Bachman, John Rothman, Kevin Scullin and Justin Barrett.

National Board members elected from the Regional Branch Division: John Carter Brown (Chicago – three-year term), David Hartley-Margolin (Colorado – three-year term), Dave Corey (Florida – three-year term), Scott Rogers (Hawaii – three-year term), Helen McNutt (Philadelphia – three-year term), Mary McDonald-Lewis (Portland – three-year term), Don Ahles (San Diego – three-year term).

Ballots for all eligible SAG members in Hollywood and New York were mailed on August 25 with a September 24 return deadline and were tabulated today by the independent election company Integrity Voting Systems. A total of 13,718 ballots were tabulated in the Hollywood Division (representing 25.25 percent of ballots mailed in the Hollywood Division) and 5,997 ballots were tabulated in the New York Division (representing 26.11 percent of ballots mailed in the New York Division). The number of ballots returned in the Regional Branch elections varied by region.

For complete results, please visit

SAG Presidential Election Close

A well-placed source says the SAG presidential election is very close. It's a reliable source, but only a single source. Caveat emptor. Not surprising, given how long it's taking to get results - over 3-1/2 hrs past first predicted time (6:38 pm vs 3:00 pm, LA time).

SAG Moderates Win NY & Everywhere Else

According to unofficial sources, and as SAGWatch is reporting, SAG moderates have won every open NY Board seat that was up, and all the regional seats that were up as well.

Hollywood results are not in yet (expected in 1.5 hrs or so), but all the seats up in Hollywood are hardline Membership First - thus, they can only lose more seats, or hold Hollywood numbers at best.

Presidential and Secretary results are expected in 1.5 hrs also, but the NY and RBD (regional) results don't bode well for MF, especially since two hardline presidential candidates (Anne-Marie Johnson and Seymour Cassel) are splitting the hardline vote. The interesting question will be whether moderate Unite for Strength candidate Ken Howard achieves a vote total greater than the sum of Johnson and Cassel.

If not, the hardliners can be expected to declare a moral victory, and the signal to AFTRA may be that SAG has still not turned a corner sufficient to realistically talk about merger. Indeed, unless Howard gets well over 60% of the vote, AFTRA may still be gun shy, since 60% is the threshold needing to approve merger. SAG has failed twice in the last decade to achieve that threshold, and AFTRA leaders have indicated that they won't discuss merger unless the signals from SAG are more favorable than they have been.

Either way, management should remember that moderates as well as hardliners have indicated that they will be ready to seek a strike authorization during the next negotiations if necessary, as I reported recently. It's going to take flexible negotiations by management to avoid a meltdown in 2010 (early negotiations start Oct. 1, 2010,just a year away) and 2011.

More later.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

SAG Presidential Candidate: I'll Seek Strike Authorization Next Year if Elected

In an open conference call today, SAG VP and presidential candidate Anne-Marie Johnson said she will seek a strike authorization next year, before the mandated early negotiations next fall, if she’s elected. She argued that that’s what’s needed to gain bargaining leverage and added that she’s “confident” the SAG membership would vote Yes, especially after the guild conducts an educational outreach campaign during its wages and working conditions (W&W) meetings with members.

Johnson added that some people say her Membership First faction is strike happy. She denied that, but said that union members would feel the impact of new media defects in the existing contract before the negotiations next fall, and added that she thought at least 75% of the board will support a strike authorization. She also argued that the sunset clause in the contract, which calls for blank-slate renegotiation of the new media provisions, is “not worth the paper its written on.” That’s seems to be a signal that she thinks a strike will be necessary to force renegotiation.

In an email interview with me, Ned Vaughn, spokesman and board candidate on the moderate Unite for Strength slate, responded as follows:

How we address a strike authorization depends on what we see headed into the negotiations. It’s my firm belief that we must negotiate the next TV/Theatrical contract jointly with AFTRA, so it’s not a decision that would be made unilaterally. That said, the sole focus of Unite for Strength is increasing performers’ bargaining power, so if a strike authorization is needed, we would certainly support it.

I also spoke with an AMPTP spokesman, but he declined comment, explaining that the AMPTP (studio/producers alliance) never comments on guild internal affairs or elections. For the same reason, he declined to comment on last week's election of moderate candidate John Wells at the WGA.

It’s my sense that Johnson may be at least partially right – i.e., that the union’s board would support a strike authorization, albeit not unanimously. Whether the membership would also is a harder question, since next fall is only a year and half after the end of the devastating Membership First-led SAG stalemate which cost members an estimated $85 million in lost wages, and followed a devastating WGA strike.

In any case, there’s no doubt that the union has a lot of unfinished business in the upcoming round of negotiations. Compromises that were reasonable or necessary in this past round may become less so as new media advances.

For example, move-over residuals (for reruns on the Internet) are very low, and it seems unreasonably so. If the studios become able to make more money on the Internet, those residuals need to increase, although the Internet’s economics are unlikely to ever support the lucrative level of prime-time network residuals, which can range from approximately $800 to $3,200 (or $3,500? I don't have my SAG agreement close at hand). All content companies – management, in other words - are being squeezed by technology, and labor is not exempt.

When will the studios become able to make significant money on the Internet? That depends in part on how far new media advances and becomes able to replace network and cable TV not just for young people viewing content on their PC’s, but also the general population who prefer to watch content on the big screen TVs they’ve purchased.

My own experience is instructive. I just bought a new flat-screen TV, a 42” LG 42LH50. It’s an Internet-capable model that just came out 6 months ago, and CNET says it has the most advanced Internet capabilities of any TV they’ve reviewed.

Yet, I got a ridiculously great deal. (Trust me, you don’t want to know.) That, of course, is a reflection on how poorly consumer electronics are selling in this economy, which means that we’re a long ways away from lots of people buying Internet-capable TVs. The technology now makes it possible, but the economics don’t yet make it a practical reality.

Now, the TV can play anything available on YouTube or Yahoo. It can even Twitter (how weird) and do other cool stuff, such as play AP news videos, no doubt to the detriment of network news programs, which survive, if at all, on advertising revenues based on viewership. Every content creator is in trouble in the new media world.

So does my new TV’s Internet capabilities mean I can stop watching conventional TV? No. Not only does it not get Hulu or other network websites such as, even the YouTube and Yahoo it does get are unusable. That’s because there’s no keyboard, just a remote, so to search for a video, you have to painstakingly press keys multiple times, just like texting on a non-smart phone. It’s even worse, because the keypad on the remote isn’t as usable as a cellphone keypad: it’s not as firm and doesn’t click. And then you get 17,000 hits and how are you going to sort through that?

So, the technology isn’t here yet in a practical sense, even for those who can afford the newest or are lucky enough to score a great deal. But the day is certainly coming. Business models are still shifting, and we might see the shift to new media retarded by pay walls around content or by add-on charges from ISPs (cable companies and telco’s) levied on people who watch large quantities of bandwidth hogging streaming or downloaded media.

In any case, the unions will be under enormous pressure to get improvements in the new media deal, even with the election this week of the moderate Wells at the WGA and the likely election of Ken Howard, the moderate Unite for Strength candidate for SAG president. Let’s hope that the studios and AMPTP recognize that next year is the time to deal with deferred business and negotiate in a more moderate fashion, or we may see a joint SAG-WGA (and possibly AFTRA) strike.

Now let’s return to that conference call. The first question is, what if you gave a conference call open to all SAG members and nobody came? That’s essentially what happened to Membership First – twice. Last week’s call had about 16 callers at most during the call. Today’s maxed out at about the same. (The call-in system announced the number of callers, and I checked repeatedly.)

And let’s look at that 16 number. Deduct 4 candidates (see next paragraph), me, at least one anti-MFer that I know of (lets say there were 2 or so), assume a couple of planted MF partisans (it'd be silly not to plant a few people) and that leaves at best 7 undecideds. What a fizzle.

Most of the prepared questions, and most of the ones asked on the calls, were softballs, many of which included pro-MF statements as the premise of the question. Most of the answers, from Johnson and MF board candidates Charles Shaughnessy, Erik-Anders Nilsson and Jordana Capra, were unsurprising and generally reiterated statements MF has made publicly before.

The newsworthy stuff in addition to the above? In last week’s call, Johnson said she was paying her own legal fees in the long-running, counter-productive suit she, outgoing SAG president Allen Rosenberg and SAG board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord brought against their own union. (How bizarre that she’s sued the union she now seeks to lead.)

That appears to contradict Rosenberg’s statement three months ago that he was receiving legal services pro-bono. Johnson also said she wouldn’t bring a motion to have her legal fees reimbursed. However, she didn’t address the likely possibility that another Membership First board member will, nor did she say she would refuse a check if offered. She acknowledged that the lawsuit has cost SAG $170,000 so far, but made no mention of the legal fees she and the other plaintiffs have incurred.

In a separate matter, Johnson claimed that she never said she would fire interim National Executive Director David White if elected, contrary to my report last week. However, she then essentially contradicted herself and confirmed my understanding, by saying there would be a search committee appointed and White could be a candidate if he wished. It sure doesn’t sound like Johnson wants White in the job permanently, and I suspect Doug Allen might be brought back, notwithstanding Johnson’s quasi-denial that I reported last week.

In an out of left field question, someone asked whether pro wrestlers should be allowed to join SAG. Johnson answered that they would have to if they were in a film, but that pro wrestling matches, because they are shot in sequence (i.e., in the manner of live shows), would potentially be under AFTRA jurisdiction, and so the question should be directed at that union. But why not allow wrestlers to join anyway? The current SAG election is a slam-down, so they'd fit right in.


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Friday, September 18, 2009

AMJ: If I’m Elected, David White is Out

In a campaign video, Membership First’s candidate for SAG president, Anne-Marie Johnson says that one her first proposals as new president would be to recommend to the national board that “a search committee be seated . . . immediately” to replace SAG interim National Executive Director David White. Ousted NED Doug Allen would "probably" not come back.

That’s the same David White under whose administration (and chief negotiator John McGuire) multiple SAG collective bargaining agreements were finally signed, including the two largest: the TV/theatrical contract, which Membership First stalemated for a year, and the commercials contract, which was delayed by that stalemate. In contrast, Membership First, under the Doug Allen administration, closed no deals at all.

Johnson justifies her position by asserting White has made clear he was solely the interim NED, but that seems misleading: so far as I’m aware, White never said he didn’t want the job on a permanent basis. So far as I’m aware, White has never taken a public position on this one way or the other.

So if AMJ wants White out, would Doug Allen be coming back? Johnson says she has “no idea.” After praising Allen, she goes on the speculate that he’s doing other things and would “probably not be available for the job.”

The video is about 9 minutes long; the discussion of the NED begins about 3 minutes into it and continues for several minutes.