Showbizreporting's Blog

August 11, 2010

DML – Court Case

Rosenberg v. SAG Lawsuit Dismissed

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 02:08 PM PDT

The lawsuit filed 1-1/2 years ago by SAG’s then-president Alan Rosenberg against his own union has finally been formally dismissed, according to court records and a source with knowledge of the matter. The formal dismissal actually came in late July, but appears not to have previously been reported. The dismissal was expected, as the judge had ruled on the matter a month earlier.

The action ends with a whimper a suit that attempted to reinstate SAG’s previous National Executive Director, Doug Allen, and impede the ultimate achievement of the 2009 agreement between SAG and the studios and producers.

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November 2, 2009

Appeal Strikes Out

Variety

Rosenberg appeal strikes out
Three-judge panel upholds SAG moves
By DAVE MCNARY, Variety

Former Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg has struck out again in court in his long-running attempt to overturn moves by SAG’s national board to fire Doug Allen and abolish SAG’s negotiating committee.
A three-judge appeals court panel on Tuesday denied Rosenberg’s appeal of a February ruling by a state judge turning down Rosenberg’s request for a temporary restraining order. In a 21-page ruling, Judges Nora Manella, Steven Suzukawa and Thomas Willhite asserted the appeal had been rendered “moot” by subsequent actions of the SAG board and its members.

Rosenberg wasn’t available to comment. Duncan Crabtree Ireland, SAG’s deputy national exec director and general counsel, said in response, “The court’s decision speaks for itself, and Screen Actors Guild will have no further comment.”

Rosenberg and board members Anne-Marie Johnson, Diane Ladd and Kent McCord had filed the suit against SAG and the 41 board members, alleging that they had illegally used a “written assent” maneuver on Jan. 26 to oust Allen and the feature-primetime negotiating committee. Rosenberg had led a 28-hour filibuster at the SAG board meeting on Jan. 12-13 to block a vote to fire Allen, prompting the moderates to take the “written assent” route.

A few days after the suit was filed, the moderates fired Allen for a second time in a regular board meeting.

“We conclude that the appeal has been rendered moot by the decision of the majority of the board on Feb. 9 to ratify and readopt the provisions of the written assent and by the subsequent decision by SAG members to accept the contract negotiated pursuant to the board’s Feb. 9 vote,” the judges wrote.

SAG members endorsed the feature-primetime deal in June with 78% backing — a surprisingly large margin that led Rosenberg to decide against seeking another term as president.

Rosenberg also alleged that the moves should be overturned due to procedural irregularities at the February meeting but the judges said they could find no such violations. And the panel said it disagreed with Rosenberg’s contention that the issues surrounding the use of written assent are of “broad public interest,” with such disputes likely to recur within SAG.

“Nothing before us supports these contentions,” the judges said. “As the issues stem from an exceptional dispute now mooted by the board’s action (and the members vote), we discern no public interest to be served by resolving them.”

The judges also awarded SAG its costs for the appeal.

October 1, 2009

DML SAG Results

SAG: Four Hardline Horsemen in the National Board Room

Posted: 27 Sep 2009 03:29 PM PDT

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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Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about entertainment law and digital media law. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

July 25, 2009

Fixing the Residuals System

Fixing the Residuals System

Posted: 24 Jul 2009 04:19 PM PDT

The residuals system is broken. It’s expensive to administer and is an invitation to conflict as platforms such as new media evolve. Yet we need residuals, because talent survives on these payments between gigs. Can the system be fixed?

Yes, I believe so. For a proposal, see my piece in today’s Hollywood Reporter.

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Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about entertainment law and digital media law. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my new book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

Rosenberg v. SAG Lawsuit Reply Brief Filed

Posted: 24 Jul 2009 11:20 AM PDT

The appeal grinds on. SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other Membership First hardliners (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) filed their reply brief earlier this week.

I’m told there will be oral argument (unscheduled as yet). That’ll drive up the price to SAG of this nonsense by probably about $5,000 more: I’d imagine several attorneys for a mock practice session for several hours, then two attorneys for oral argument for a half day or so. Members’ dues money at work, thanks to MembershipFirst.

———————Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about entertainment law and digital media law. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my new book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

June 16, 2009

Digital Media Law: SAG Lawsuit Still Grinds On; Court Denies SAG’s Motion to Dismiss Appeal

SAG Lawsuit Still Grinds On; Court Denies SAG’s Motion to Dismiss Appeal

As I previously reported, SAG’s counsel in late May filed a motion to dismiss the appeal by SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other Membership First hardliners (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) of a Superior Court order that denied their application for a temporary restraining order. On June 5—just days before the new TV/theatrical contracts were ratified—Rosenberg et al. filed a brief opposing the motion to dismiss.

Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals on June 9 issued a one-sentence order denying the motion to dismiss, presumably meaning that the appeal is too complex to be decided without oral argument (or, at least, full briefing). So, the appeal grinds on. Rosenberg et al. previously filed their brief in the appeal. SAG’s responsive brief is due July 1. Thereafter, Rosenberg et al. get to file a reply brief, and then there will probably be oral argument at some point. Within 90 days after the oral argument, the court will issue its ruling.

In other words, the appeal will probably drag on until sometime in November unless Rosenberg et al. are persuaded to drop it. Meanwhile, the suit itself proceeds in the trial court as well. Confused as to how a case can proceed in two courts at once? Well, it happens, and the legal fees aren’t cheap. All of this sounds like a campaign issue that Unite for Strength will probably raise—why reelect a president who persists in suing his own union? UPDATE: Indeed, as SAGWatch points out, by continuing to pursue their lawsuit, Rosenberg et al. are reneging on a promise Anne-Marie Johnson publicly made to withdraw the suit if the TV/theatrical contracts were approved.

June 3, 2009

SAG Town Hall Meeting

Report on SAG NY Town Hall Meeting  (June 2,  2009)

 

SAG held a town hall meeting in NY last night to provide information re the TV/theatrical contract. It comes a bit late in the process, since the ballots are due back in the mail by next Tuesday, June 9. That means that the last day to reliably mail the ballots is probably Friday, or even Thursday, depending on your faith in the USPS and its vagaries. It also means that we have probably seen the end of the multitude of pro and con videos deployed on the SAG website, Membership First website, and YouTube.

Variety reports the turnout was slim—about 100 actors. SAGWatch infers, accurately I think, that most people have already voted and would have little reason to attend an informational meeting at this point.

The Variety report notes that attendees included SAG interim NED David White, President Alan Rosenberg, MF-ers 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and Scott Wilson, while supporters of the deal included Dan Lauria, Dylan Baker, SAG 2nd VP Sam Freed and board members Ralph Byers, Paul Christie, Rebecca Damon, Mike Hodge and Kevin Scullin.

A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, tells me that the MF folks (perhaps 15-20 people) were rowdy, booing people and apparently having their cell phones call en masse to disrupt the meeting.

However, the most interesting thing the source told me is that after the meeting the source spoke individually with Alan Rosenberg and asked whether he would attempt to have SAG reimburse him for his legal fees incurred in the lawsuit he, Johnson, Diane Ladd and Kent McCord files against SAG itself, a suit that has received denials in both the trial and appellate courts but nonetheless continues at both levels.

What’s interesting Rosenberg’s response, as reported by the source: “I don’t have any legal fees. It’s pro bono.” This is a problem—if true, it would explain in part why Rosenberg and his co-plaintiffs continue the futile and disruptive suit against SAG, which is burning up the union’s money at a that the guild has ben left with a $6 million deficit by MF. It’s also a small benefit, in that the plaintiffs will have no legal fees to extract from SAG if they were to recover control of the national board.

I emailed Rosenberg requesting comment on the source’s report and his assistant replied that his response was as follows: “This is a private matter and I don’t want to speak about it publicly”. “I have no further comment”.

 

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Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about SAG, or digital media law generally. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my new book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

SAG Files Motion to Dismiss Rosenberg Appeal

 

SAG Files Motion to Dismiss Rosenberg Appeal (May 24, 2009)

As you’ll recall, several months ago, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three other hardliners (1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord) sued their own union, seeking to enjoin negotiations and reverse personnel and procedural changes that they correctly anticipated would pave the way for a deal on terms the hardliners are pledged to oppose. Although their requests were denied by both the trial and appeals courts, the lawsuit nonetheless continues in both of those forums (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC406900 and Second Appellate District 2d Civil No. B214056).

Several days ago, SAG filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, on the grounds that the appeal is moot. You can read the motion here. Even if the court grants the motion, which it ought to, and may well, Rosenberg et al might choose to appeal to the State Supreme Court. They won’t get any traction if they do, but regardless of whether or not they do, the lower court case will continue for at least the next few months, and there will be further opportunities to appeal.

So, SAG’s legal fees will continue to mount, courtesy of the union’s own president and 1st VP. Summer is fire season in Southern California, but it’s usually the hillsides that are at risk. This time, though, a bit of SAG’s treasury is burning as well.

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Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about SAG, or digital media law generally. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my new book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets.

DIGITAL MEDIA LAW: SAG TV/Theatrical Ballots Later Than Expected; SAG Litigation Continues; and More (APR. 29, 2009)

 

Digital Media Law

 

SAG TV/Theatrical Ballots Later Than Expected; SAG Litigation Continues; and More

Posted: 29 Apr 2009 02:19 AM PDT

The ballots for SAG’s recently approved TV/theatrical contract won’t be going out until mid to late May, a source tells me, several weeks later than the early May target that the Guild stated as recently as a week or so ago. That means that ratification, if achieved as expected, will not come until early to mid June, since balloting is expected to be a three week process.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that writing the pro and con statements has only just begun. That process takes a week, and then another week is allowed for rebuttal statements to be written.

(BTW, a copy of the proposed TV/theatrical agreement is available here. I’ve not yet done an analysis, but in the meantime you can read SAGWatch’s.)

Meanwhile, ballots for the commercials contract will be mailed to both SAG and AFTRA members Thursday, and due back May 21, reports Variety. It’s expected to pass easily. In contrast, the TV/theatrical contract will probably pass with a yes vote in the 60%-75% range, roughly in the neighborhood of the AFTRA deal, which achieved 62%. Only a simple majority (i.e., just over 50%) is required.

In other SAG news, Unite for Strength revealed in a Facebook email several days ago that the force majeure compromise is 33 cents on the dollar. “Force majeure” refers to arbitration claims on behalf of about 500 actors for a portion of wages lost due to the 2007-2008 Writer Guild strike. The claims amount to about $63 million, and, thus, the total settlement is about $21 million. I’m told SAG members will get checks several weeks after the agreement is ratified.

That settlement amount—33 cents on the dollar—is on the low side, but that was a tradeoff. SAG wants its contract to expire in mid-2011, to synch up with the WGA, AFTRA, and DGA. That’s an issue created by the ten-month delay that the hardline Membership First faction inflicted on the union; without the delay, the deals would have synched up as a matter of course. To get synchronicity at this late date, SAG had to give something up.

Remember also that the claims are under arbitration. SAG could have gotten zero cents on the dollar if the arbitration had proceeded; or it could have prevailed altogether. With that much uncertainty, a settlement in the 50% range might have been expected. That would have yielded a total of about $31 million, rather than $21 million. So, it’s a reasonable conclusion that SAG gave up about $10 million in order to get the synchronized expiration date—and prompt payment to the affected members.

The Guild also had to agree to modify the TV-related force majeure language in a way that reduces the likelihood of future force majeure claims. To put this in context, though, I’m told there has never been an industry-wide force majeure claim before. The studios obviously want to avoid seeing one again, not only to reduce their costs, but also to decrease the strength by which SAG members would support a writers strike in the future. (In other words, if actors have to bear the entire cost of their own lost wages, they may be less likely to enthusiastically support a strike by a sister union.)

Speaking of lost wages, I also have a couple of factoids on the SAG layoffs: the total number of people laid off was 36 (not 35, as previously reported), with an additional 26 unfilled positions that will remain unfilled. That’s a total reduction in force of 62 positions, and the annual savings to the Guild is $2.5 million in salaries ($4 million if bonuses and other factors are included).

Moving from lost wages to lost causes, there are developments in the lawsuit filed against SAG by the union’s own president, Alan Rosenberg, and his fellow Membership First plaintiffs 1st VP Anne-Marie-Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord. That suit, as you may rather have forgotten, seeks to unseat the TV/theatrical negotiating task force, as well as interim National Executive Director David White and Chief Negotiator John McGuire. That group—plus the commercials negotiating committee—is the team that managed to close two deals in as many months, while MF closed nothing at all over several years.

The lawsuit, in my opinion, hasn’t got a Popsicle’s chance in hell. After all, what judge is going to unwind a twice-ratified union leadership change? Incredibly, the lawsuit proceeds on not one but two tracks, since there are now both a trial court action and a concurrent appeal. Rosenberg’s and his co-plaintiffs’ solicitude for the members apparently includes spending their money on pointless multi-pronged litigation—understandably, since abandoning the litigation before this summer’s SAG election would be no boon to MF’s election prospects. Indeed, if MF ever wins control of the Board again, you can expect a motion to have SAG reimburse Rosenberg et al. for their no doubt considerable litigation costs.

In any case, there are developments on two fronts. In the trial court, SAG filed its Answer to the plaintiffs’ first amended complaint. A variety of defenses are asserted, including that the complaint is moot (because the SAG Board re-fired the previous NED, Doug Allen, at a meeting, after having first done so by a written assent document), interferes with the union’s right of self-governance, and is barred by the wrongful acts of Rosenberg and his co-plaintiffs (this presumably refers to the 28-hour filibuster over which Rosenberg presided in an attempt to prevent Allen from being fired).

Meanwhile, in the Court of Appeal, Rosenberg & co. filed their Appellant’s Opening Brief several days ago, accompanied by multi-volume, multi-hundred page appendices of documents. The arguments are simply a rehash of the arguments Rosenberg and his co-plaintiffs made in the trial court–which were rejected not only by the trial court judge, but also in an earlier appeal. Yes, the current appeal is actually the second, and the case is only three months old.

What next? As the name implies, the Appellant’s Opening Brief is the first brief in the appeal. The next few weeks will see the filing of the respondent’s brief (SAG’s brief) and the reply brief (in which Rosenberg et al. get to reply to SAG’s brief). Then comes oral argument, unless the court decides to proceed based on the briefs alone (which I think the court has the right to do, but I’m not sure).

For those who find appellate work dry and lifeless (it’s all briefs and legal arguments, with no witnesses or jury), the trial court action will grind on as well, doubtless with demurrers, a motion to dismiss, motions for summary judgment, depositions, interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and all of the other costly accoutrement of modern-day litigation. Actually, that’s pretty dry and lifeless too. This could go on for months, providing amusement to everyone except SAG’s accountants. As in entertainment, so too in litigation: the show must go on.

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June 2, 2009

Report from Crazytown (letter) by Mike Farrell (From MASH as BJ Honeycut) (Feb. 8, 2009)

Report from Crazytown February 8, 2009 Because the board of the Hollywood Division of SAG now allows members from its area to attend board meetings (after signing a form about no-no’s), I thought it would be worthwhile to see if they’d let me in to watch the February 2nd meeting last week.  This was the first meeting scheduled after National Executive Director Doug Allen was fired by the National Board and replaced by Interim NED David White, who I knew when he was SAG’s General Counsel from 2002 to 2006. 

Because Doug Allen’s hard-nosed style made him the champion and the favorite of the Membership First faction that hired him, and because said faction continues to control the Hollywood Board even after losing control of the National Board in the last election, this meeting, being David White’s first as NED promised to be interesting.

To set the stage, as it were… Membership First is the current name of the faction that, in essence, split our union into ‘political’ groups. Organizing an effort to assert control over the Guild in the 90s, this group succeeded in defeating then-President Richard Masur and installing William Daniels, their titular head, as president.  The Daniels Administration led us into the commercials strike of 2000, torpedoed a Masur-led effort to solve problems between SAG and the ATA (the collection of agents representing most of the working actors), re-wrote the Guild’s constitution and, in general, disdained and tried to minimize the input, effect and value of members in the New York and Regional Branch Divisions of our national union.

This Hollywood-centric group, operating under different names but known in recent years as Membership First (MF), has demonstrated a proclivity for tactics and rhetoric that have caused it to be referred to in the media as the ‘militant’ faction of SAG.

In the years my wife, Shelley Fabares, and I served as National Board members and on the Hollywood Division Board (Approx. 2001 – 2005) – Shelley for three years on both Boards and I for three years as SAG’s First VP under President Melissa Gilbert and one year as a National and Hollywood Board member – we worked hard, along with allies in Hollywood, New York and the Regional Branch Division, to repair what we saw as the damage done by the attitudes, choices and behaviors of the Hollywood-centric-types who continued to be a loud and often obstructionist presence in the union by dint of their strength on the Hollywood Board.

During our terms, for example, they sabotaged an agreement we negotiated with the ATA agents, waged a dishonest campaign that just barely kept the consolidation and Affiliation agreement (that would have merged AFTRA and SAG and averted our current problems) from succeeding, and made life so desirable for our bright, inventive and gutsy NED, Bob Pisano, that he decided to step aside and allow the position to be taken over by the terrific man who had been running AFTRA, Greg Hessinger.

In the 2005 elections, Membership First achieved its long-sought goal by attaining enough votes in Hollywood to give it control over the majority of the Guild’s National Board, with the single voice of moderation in Hollywood provided by the incredibly courageous Morgan Fairchild, who has maintained her seat, and somehow her sanity, in the ensuing years.

The first National Board meeting under this new majority and its president, Alan Rosenberg, engineered the firing of Greg Hessinger and the abrogation of the contracts of two executives he had hired, acts that cost the Guild’s members hundreds of thousands of dollars and a significant portion of the union’s already-battered reputation. 

Deteriorating relations with New York and the Branches were then exacerbated by the hiring of Doug Allen and a new, even more assertive posture for the Guild. This new energy resulted in the quick, embarrassing defeat of Mr. Allen’s attempt to force the ATA agents into an agreement, assaults on AFTRA that nearly destroyed SAG’s 30-year-old Phase One relationship with that sister union, a now 7-months-long stalemate in negotiations between SAG and the AMPTP, the infamous attempt to scuttle AFTRA’s contract with the AMPTP, and a wasteful, expensive, tone-deaf campaign for a strike authorization in the midst of our country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The growing confusion, upset and dissatisfaction of the membership then resulted in the election, last September, of a significant number of independent, non-MF actors to the Hollywood board.  Coalescing as Unite for Strength – their primary focus reuniting with AFTRA – these new faces on the Hollywood Board joined with Morgan Fairchild to bring a different, more rational energy to the National Board’s majority.  

In the first meeting of the newly-constituted National Board on January 12th, 13th, they put forth a motion to fire NED Doug Allen and disband the Membership-First-dominated negotiating committee that had been unable to complete an agreement with the AMPTP.  This effort by the majority was frustrated by a series of parliamentary tricks and filibustering that refused to allow a vote on the measure.  This unprecedented attempt to frustrate the will of the majority, orchestrated by the now-minority MFs and abetted by the Chair, President Alan Rosenberg, succeed in making SAG an industry-wide laughing stock by creating a 28-hour board meeting at which no business was allowed to be done.  None.

Told that any future attempts to assert their authority and fire Doug Allen would meet the same impasse, the Board majority used a little-known constitutional owner granting them the authority to act outside a meeting and, on about January 26th, presented a “written assent” signed by the majority of SAG’s National Board members to the Guild’s legal counsel.  This document, verified and accepted by SAG’s counsel and outside advisers, fired Doug Allen, installed David White as Interim NED, disbanded the negotiating committee, replaced it with a Task Force made up of members from all divisions, and named John McGuire, a 40-year SAG staff member and veteran negotiator, as the Guild’s chief negotiator.

As you might imagine, President Rosenberg, 1st VP Ann-Marie Johnson and their MF colleagues were not happy.  Thus, my interest in attending the February 2nd Hollywood Board meeting.

Told that the MFs had arranged for a protest demonstration outside the SAG offices before the meeting and had asked their supporters to stack the list of spectators, I tried to get on the list and failed. Hearing that one could wait in line and be admitted if the available seats were not all filled, former National Board member and Guild Treasurer James Cromwell and I went to the SAG offices early and stood in the Stand-By line hoping to be allowed in.

When the demonstration outside concluded, many of those in or watching it came into the lobby and joined us in line. Some were from the stunt community and some were background actors, two constituencies the MFs have formed ties with. As we waited, a few of them engaged us in conversation, questioning how we could support an end to residuals, the “gagging” of President Rosenberg, the illegal firing of Mr. Allen, and a list of terribles they had been told by their MF leaders. We explained, over time, that none of this was true and some of them actually listened.  We learned, as well, that a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order were being filed by President Rosenberg, VP Ann-Marie Johnson and two MF National Board members, Kent McCord, and Diane Ladd, challenging the firing of Doug Allen. Did I say obstructionist?

We were allowed into the crowded meeting, given further instructions as to what visitors could not do, and then brought into the Cagney Room to be seated. The meeting began forty minutes late, due, we were told, to the unusual number of visitors this evening.  VP Ann-Marie Johnson, an intelligent and articulate woman, chaired the meeting, explained what would take place, and then asked staff, board members and the visitors each to introduce themselves.  After a couple of pieces of routine business, Ms. Johnson read the statement of the chair (the VP chairs the Division meetings, President Rosenberg chairs only National Board meetings), which was interesting.  With new Interim NED David White to her immediate left, she spoke strongly against the action of the majority (without mentioning the lawsuit she was filing) and lauded the no-longer-employed Doug Allen as the strongest and best leader and negotiator in SAG’s history.  This, of course, was met with wild applause from the MF majority and many in the peanut gallery around us.

I don’t recall if it was before or after the statement of the chair, but Ilyanne Kichaven, Hollywood’s Executive Director, made an eloquent pitch for unity which was roundly applauded and quickly forgotten. Next, Ms. Johnson introduced David White, explaining that he would speak, the floor would be open for questions, and then she would allow statements from the members.

David White gave a brief account of his background; acknowledged that he knew many of those on the board from his years as General Counsel, spoke a bit about his personal philosophy, his view of and affection for the Guild, and how he intended to fulfill his obligations as Interim NED.   He kept it short and left the rest of the time for questions.

As expected, it was a grilling. The questions were quickly reminiscent of the “are you now or have you ever been” era.  Who approached you about taking this job?  I want names!  When did they approach you?  On what date?  You were hired as Legal Counsel by Bob Pisano: do you have a continuing relationship with Bob Pisano: did Bob Pisano arrange for you to get this job?  Have you spoken with Bob Pisano about the job?  What is the nature of your relationship with Bob Pisano?

Clearly, they thought they could tar David with an association to someone they hate – and because they hate him they think everyone else does.  But David was great.  He explained, patiently, that he worked for the law firm that Pisano had met with and was hired for the job.

No, he said, Pisano did not have anything to do with his being offered this job.

Then, when the interrogator asked if Pisano had called him, he said, “Yes.  After word got out that I had agreed to take the job, Bob Pisano called me and said, “What the hell are you doing?’”

It got a great laugh.  Try as they could, they couldn’t rile him and over time only made themselves look smaller and more petty. Because each questioner had a limited time, it quickly became clear that there was a prepared list of questions – a kind of script – that was passed along from one MF to the other, all intending to expose what they saw as a gross conspiracy perpetrated by evildoers that had stripped them of their champion, not to mention their majority.  The toxic tone in the room quickly took me back to our time on the board, a period rife with personal attacks, lies, power plays and histrionics.  After one of our first meetings, I remember Shelley, exhausted and near tears, saying, “These people claim to be union supporters, Democrats, but they behave like the Bush Administration!”

What was wonderful was watching David White respond, calmly, clearly, patiently, to each question, brushing aside the sarcasm and the lousy implications and giving the facts as he knew them. They wanted to know how much he was being paid and who had negotiated his contract, to which he said his contract was only now being negotiated.  When he started to answer the question about his salary he was interrupted by SAG’s General Counsel, Duncan Crabtree, who pointed out to the board members that some of this information was inappropriate for an open meeting and should only be discussed in Executive Session.

After the interminable questions ended, having been lightened only by a few welcoming notes offered by some of the non-MF members, Ann-Marie called an end to the questions and opened the floor to statements. And now it got nasty. Possibly because David had handled his end of things so well, many of the questions became spears thrown at the non-MF members present and the National Board in general.  How dare they use this illegal device, the “written assent,” to fire Doug Allen?  Did they lack the courage to debate the issue openly and allow everyone to vote on it?

This, it was clear, was for the benefit of their supporters who were avidly listening and applauding every time a nasty shot underscored one of the talking points they’d been fed. Finally, one of the new board members was able to speak to these charges and explain that when they had tried to do just that, to debate the issue in the National Board meeting and vote on it – (at this point the Chair tried to cut him off, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss what had happened at the National Board meeting.  He, however, was not cowed by her and said he had no intention of talking about the business of the meeting and went on, explaining) – they had not been allowed a discussion or a debate for the length of the meeting, which left the ‘written assent’ as their only avenue to achieve the will of the majority.

After this, more MFs claimed Alan Rosenberg had been “gagged.”  How could people who believe in free speech do such a thing, they wanted to know?  But none of them acknowledged, or mentioned, that then Doug Allen was in charge he and Alan Rosenberg would not allow any of the elected officers to speak officially, even to his or her own division members, without having what they wrote edited by Hollywood.  What the written assent did was, in essence, the same thing, saying that Rosenberg could speak or write his own opinion, but no longer could he speak officially for the union without clearing it with the majority.

However, true to form, the next speaker and the next and the next continued the barrage of assaults on the now-hated majority.  They spat out words like “unity” as a curse and swore there would never be unity.  They spewed vitriol on the new members and said those who signed the ‘written assent’ did so in blood. (I don’t remember the exact words, but it was about ‘blood’ on the document.) It was awful. I remember when we were part of the board, trying to explain the level of toxicity in these meetings to other actors and finally coming to the understanding that you actually had to be in the room to “get” it.  And here we were in the room again, getting it. Poor Jamie had his head in his hands half the time.

The harangue ended, finally.  The strategic mistake the new members, the rational members made, I think, was allowing Ann-Marie to cut off the list of speakers when only her MF colleagues were lined up to spew.  It allowed them to dump on David, to harangue the new members and to condemn the written assent and what they called the unfairness, the gagging, the illegality of it all, without any rational response.

When a break was called I walked over to say hello to Morgan and some of the new members.  I could see their shock. This was not something they had experienced before, it appeared, and one of them even told me he was thinking about not coming back.  I encouraged him to stick it out – not only to stick it out but to encourage his friends to run for board seats this year so the rational voices could take Hollywood back.

Jamie and I left, shaking our heads at the behavior of these people once again.  But maybe, we said, just maybe if enough people care about their union to put in some time, we can get it back on the rails.

The next day, as you know, Rosenberg, et al’s suit and request for a TRO were filed.  That knocked the scheduled reopening of negotiations with the AMPTP off the tracks again.  A couple of days later the judge refused the restraining order and said he thought the lawsuit had little chance of success.  Rosenberg’s lawyer said they’d appeal. But today, I hear, the National Board met once again and, after another attempt at filibuster, the majority succeeded in passing all the ‘written assent’ motions in a meeting, so the negotiations are again rumored to begin this month. It’s your union.

Mike

 

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