Saturday, July 5, 2008

Qualified Voting Redux

Remember "qualified voting"? Also called "affected voting," it's the idea that only some union members should be eligible to vote on a contract (or strike authorization): namely, those who are actually affected by it – i.e., those who work under the contract. The countervailing argument is that unions are supposed to be united, and thus any member should be able to vote on any contract.

Several months ago, anti-strike forces in SAG pushed for qualified voting, putting forward a proposal that would have disqualified many SAG members from voting because they hadn’t worked even a day in the previous 12 months as a SAG actor. That would have reduced the likelihood of a strike, because actors who aren’t working have little to fear from a work stoppage (they’re already not working). SAG leadership killed the proposal, describing the proposal as anti-democratic.

Ironically, while spurning qualified voting for their own union, SAG’s leadership urges it on AFTRA, complaining that news anchors, weathermen, and assorted other non-actors get to vote on the AFTRA primetime deal now out for ratification. That complaint seems a bit hypocritical to me. What’s good for the SAG goose should be good for the AFTRA gander.

For what it’s worth, the Writers Guild uses a hybrid system: news writers didn’t get to vote on the WGA deal, but all other members, even those whose only credits or writing income was in the distant past, did. That included not only writers of features and scripted TV, but also writers of game shows and late-night variety shows, which are rather different businesses than traditional scripted work.

To put a cherry on it all, we turn to recent news from a third actors union (they all should merge one day), Actors’ Equity, which reached a deal with Broadway theater owners on its own contract earlier this week. In passing, Variety discusses the ratification procedure that will now follow: the contract will be sent to the members, “with voting eligibility reserved for members who have worked under the production contract since 2000.” Sounds a lot like the qualified voting that SAG rejected. Is Equity inequitable, or just sensible? I’m almost sorry I raised the question.