ron-livingston.jpgThis comes to me from actor Ron Livingston speaking out against the SAG petition drive lobbying for an earnings threshold requirement for “qualified voting” on SAG contract issues. The “pro” opinion was articulated yesterday by Ned Vaughn here:

“I was recently forwarded a copy of Ned Vaughn’s petition to change the way that SAG votes to ratify its contracts. I don’t know Ned personally, but he has obviously thought about this a good deal, and seems genuinely passionate about a strong union. His argument is clearly articulated, and endorsed by a list of actors whose talents and intelligence I very much appreciate, several of whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with and would call friends.

“Nevertheless, I respectfully disagree with Ned on a number of points.

sag-2.jpg“SAG, like any union, draws its strength from numbers and unity, not from division and cantonization. Collective bargaining is only effective when done collectively. For a negotiating position to have any strength or credibility, it has to be supported not only by the people currently working the jobs, but by the people who could and would otherwise gladly replace them if given the opportunity. How many of the WGA’s recent gains would have been achieved if the only people who respected and supported the picket lines were writers currently working when the strike was called? The strength of our union is not just the actor who says ‘I really want this job, but I’m not doing it anymore until you pay me what I’m worth.’ It’s the ten actors next to him who say ‘I really want that job, too, but I’m not doing it, either, until you pay him what he’s worth.’ And that’s a sacrifice, too.

“The whole point of the Screen Actor’s Guild, or any labor union, for that matter, is that We’re All In This Together. That’s the most important thing to remember as we navigate these next coming months.

“I’d like to make one thing clear: I think the general principle behind Ned’s petition is sound, and certainly worthy of a discussion. I, for one, have never worked under a Dancer contract, or a Stunt Performer contract, and I can’t think of any good reason why I should be consulted on either of them. Simply put, they don’t affect me, and I wouldn’t feel qualified to vote on them.

“But when it comes to the major SAG contracts, it’s not so easy for me to know exactly who’s going to be affected.

“Every one of us knows that in our line of work, you’re up some years, and some years you’re down. And if anything, the major SAG Contracts — establishing minimums and residuals — affect us the most in the years we’re down. When we’re not working a lot. Established stars don’t work for scale; they may get bought out of residuals, or already have back-end participation negotiated for them. It’s precisely the people scraping by, the up-and-comers and the kids working their first and second jobs that these contracts do and will affect the most.

“As to an earnings test for qualified voting, I’m not sure why it matters what I made last week, or six months ago, or in 2003; what I got paid in the past is the one thing a new contract is definitely NOT going to affect. These contracts aren’t for past work. They’re for future work. And if someone out there knows who is going to get which jobs for the next three to five years, they should post it somewhere and we can all save a lot of gas money going to auditions.

“None of us were born working for more than $1,000 or $7,500 a year. We all started with empty resumes. But when we worked that first SAG job and got that first paycheck, each one of us benefited from the courage, solidarity and leadership of the actors before us who had the personal courage not to pull the ladder up behind them; who went out on a limb to demand a fair deal and safe working conditions for everyone, whether they knew our names yet or not.

“I don’t mean to give anyone offense. There may very well be a way to change how SAG votes that makes us a more effective union, and gives all members a greater voice in the contracts that affect them the most. That’s a great idea, and it’s worth talking about. But proposing to strip 65%-80% of the membership of their voting rights against their will is not the way to do it. Certainly not now. At best it leaves us with a membership that is 65%-80% fi-core before negotiations even begin. At worst it creates yet another separate group of actors, hungry for work, with no vested interest in supporting any position “SAG Elite” chooses to take, and four times its size. Take one look at the effect that lack of coordination with AFTRA has on our bargaining position and ask yourself if what we need is more division, categorization and animosity.

“Now is not the time to question each other’s talent or worth. Now is not the time to point at fellow actors and say, ‘You’re the problem with the industry.’ Now is the time for all members of SAG and AFTRA to take a lesson from the past, to pull together and create the framework that will provide a fair deal for actors working today, actors working tomorrow, and actors working five, ten and twenty years from now, whomever they may be.”