Postelection, Postpoll, Whither SAG?
Last Thursday, after a very public, bitter and often delusional campaign — during which one angry Web site referred to me as Tricky Stinke — voting members of the Screen Actors Guild filled 23 of the 69 National Board seats open for election this year. And to think that during the WGA strike, I complained that the writers were whiny. But the actors are fucking nuts. And mean. Don’t ever repeat to me that late-night talk-show phrase, “We were like a family on the set.”
This campaign has been like an extreme cage match. From the Hollywood division, an equal number of candidates from the Membership First and Unite For Strength slates — five to five — won places on the National Board. The winners showed that this was a celebrity contest. For Membership First (MF), JoBeth Williams, Scott Bakula, Lainie Kazan, Keith Carradine and Joely Fisher won three-year terms. For Unite For Strength (U4S), Amy Brenneman, Adam Arkin, Ken Howard, Pamela Reed and Kate Walsh also won three-year terms. The 11th elected National Board member from the Hollywood division was Morgan Fairchild, who ran as an Independent and also won a three-year term. It’s expected that she will vote with U4S, which endorsed her candidacy.
(In case you’ve been blissfully unaware of SAG’s infighting, let me explain: Membership First consists of president Alan Rosenberg and most of the current Hollywood division leadership. They hate their smaller, low-cost, evil stepsister union AFTRA, and want nothing to do with it — U4S sees MF as hos and AFTRA as bros.)
Before the election, the makeup of the SAG National Board from the Hollywood division used to be 32 MF members, plus Fairchild. After the election, it’s 27 MF members, five U4S members and one Independent.
Inside the New York division, little has changed: It’s always been overwhelmingly anti-MF. But that doesn’t mean that the five newly elected full SAG National Board members with three-year terms will vote 100 percent with U4S because many of the NYD candidates campaigned on a different slate (labeled USAN, or Restore Respect). Finally, seven SAG National Board members were elected from the Regional Branch divisions and, again, it’s unclear how many will vote 100 percent of the time with U4S. But most agree with U4S that the SAG-AFTRA cage fight must stop now.
“We offered members a clear choice in this election — end the fighting with AFTRA and instead partner with them to create a stronger union for performers,” said Unite for Strength leader Ned Vaughn. “The results in this unusually high turnout election leave no doubt that is what the members want. We look forward to working with all of our colleagues on the board to move SAG in this new direction.”
But to get their way, they must count on all the new National Board members from the NY division and the Regional Branch divisions voting 100 percent of the time with the U4S from the Hollywood division, which would then give the pro-AFTRA forces a razor-thin majority on the guild’s governing body. But those are big ifs.
Would this affect SAG’s current contract negotiations with AMPTP? I don’t see how, especially considering July’s unanimous board endorsement of SAG’s position on New Media jurisdiction. Nor does it affect the makeup of SAG’s negotiating committee.
“The election changes nothing,” one MF’er told me. “The employers are still going to deal with the same people across the table.”
However, U4S supporters claimed during the campaign that they could influence the SAG National Board to change the makeup of the negotiating committee. But to do so would require changing the guild’s constitution, and that can’t be done without a two-thirds vote, which neither MF nor U4S has. Of course, the national board could disband SAG’s bargaining group and take over themselves. But that would mean 73 people (including President Rosenberg and Secretary-Treasurer Connie Stevens) in the talks — which seems unwieldly and therefore impractical. So if each division gets to choose new members on the board, then the Hollywood division would still have the numbers majority because it’s based on earnings and demographics.
As Membership First’s Anne-Marie Johnson points out: “Membership First still retains control of the Hollywood division board and still controls the vote on the negotiating committee. Membership First still holds firm on what we believe are issues that are imperative for our members of the Screen Actors Guild. Those issues are: holding firm on force majeure; holding firm on jurisidiction from dollar one in New Media; holding firm on residuals for product made for New Media; and holding firm on product integration. And we look forward to the new national board members realizing (once they’ve actually spent time in a boardroom) that what we are fighting for is the right thing for the Screen Actors Guild.”