Thursday, October 2, 2008

SAG: Toss that Hot Potato Back (UPDATED)

As I blogged yesterday, SAG’s negotiating committee has the power to send a strike authorization referendum to the membership at large, but it instead punted to the national board. In other words, the negotiating committee recommended that the national board send out such a referendum.

Ironically, SAG’s negotiating committee was granted this power by the very national board that it has now punted to. And, I understand, the power was granted just a few months ago.

What’s more, the negotiating committee is controlled by the hard-line, pro-strike Membership First faction (as was the national board at the time). So why didn’t they just vote to send the authorization referendum to the membership?

Answer: pure, craven, cowardly politics. By punting to the national board, Membership First has seemingly mouse-trapped the new, moderate members of the board. Those members, from the Unite for Strength slate, have a razor-thin majority on the board if they maintain solid support from the historically-moderate New York and regional members of the board.

Here’s the trap: If UFS votes against a strike authorization, then MF will accuse them in next September’s elections of having sold out the guild and caused the guild to have to accept a bad deal. On the other hand, if UFS votes for a strike authorization, then they’re vulnerable to the charge from their own supporters that they’re a mere echo of MF, or unskilled pawns. And they take the guild one step closer to an ugly, protracted strike that will probably lead the guild at terrible cost to a deal no better, and quite possibly worse, than the one on the table now.

Astonishingly, UFS has been silent in the face of this, as I alluded to yesterday, and Andrew Salomon forcefully discusses in an excellent piece called The Inexplicable Sounds of Silence. If UFS wants to be seen as a true choice, not a hollow echo, they need to be front and center now. They need to speak out.

And what should UFS do in the national boardroom on the 18th — which way to vote? My recommendation: make a substitute proposal. For this, I’m indebted to an offhand comment by Voiceguy to my post yesterday. His suggestion: “Maybe the National Board should send it right back to the Committee: ‘We told you before that you had this authority, so if you want to use it, go ahead and use it. Don't push it back to us.’”

I think Voiceguy is exactly right. UFS and its allies should call MF’s bluff and toss the hot potato back in their hands. If MF wants a strike, let them own it (a point Salomon makes as well).

UPDATE — It appears UFS isn’t going to follow this suggestion. Ned Vaughn emailed me this brief statement: “The matter of a strike authorization is now in the hands of the national board and that’s where it will be dealt with. It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on it further at this time.”