Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Guilds Will Survive

Kevin Morris and Glenn C. Altschuler have an Op-Ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times in which they predict the demise of the Hollywood guilds, or at least, of the WGA and SAG. Their scenario is that massive numbers of primarily high-earning writers and actors - screen writers, television show runners, movie stars and celebs - go financial core, weakening the guilds beyond recognition.

"Financial core," for those not attuned to the vagaries of labor law, is a status in which members withdraw their formal membership in the guild (as far as the guild is concerned), but are still considered guild members for legal purposes. See NLRB. v. General Motors, 373 U.S. 734 (1963) and CWA v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735, 745 (1988), both of which are Supreme Court cases.

Under the law, Fi-Core members are no longer subject to guild discipline, and can thus cross guild picket lines to work during a strike. The can also work non-union as well as union jobs, and continue to receive all benefits of guild membership, when they work a union job. They also continue to pay almost full guild dues.

Since Fi-Core members can work during a strike, the guilds would lose enormous leverage. This is because the guilds would lose the ability to shut down the industry. Production would restart, and the guild becomes a mere echo of its former self. The guilds become organizations of the disenfranchised - non-working writers and actors, and those whose stature in the industry commands only low wages. Eventually even they begin to defect. The guild survives (because Fi-Core members pay dues), but loses the ability to strike, and thus to bargain effectively.

This sounds pretty awful. But, there's a flaw in the argument: show runners and screen writers would no doubt threaten to change their status to Fi-Core go to the WGA in massive numbers before actually doing so (likewise as to celebs and stars with respect to SAG). This is exactly what ended the 1988 strike. At that point, even the hardline guild leadership would probably listen. There would probably also be a movement among the rank-and-file to go Fi-Core as well.

As the Op-Ed piece points out, this doomsday scenario could happen. But will it? Probably not. Before it does, more moderate heads in the guild will prevail. Self-preservation is a strong instinct.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.