amybrennerman.jpgThis comes to me from actor Amy Brenneman, who is responding to actor Ron Livingston speaking out here against the SAG petition drive lobbying for an earnings threshold requirement for “qualified voting” on SAG contract issues. Brenneman takes the “pro” opinion articulated earlier this week by Ned Vaughn here:

“I, too, have been working on the effort to improve SAG contract voting procedures, and I’d like to respond to Ron Livingston’s thoughtful comments.

“In some areas, Ron and I are in complete agreement. I’m pleased he thinks the general principle behind the effort is sound and worthy of discussion. His acknowledgement that he can’t think of a reason to be consulted on contracts that don’t affect him—that he wouldn’t feel qualified to vote on them—is a point of view we share. I don’t receive the Animation VO ballot. That’s not a measure of my ‘talent or worth’, but simply reflects the fact that I haven’t been working in that field.

“The SAG constitution requires that contracts be ratified by ‘the membership affected thereby.’ It doesn’t say ‘the entire membership’ or ‘all members in good standing’ as it does for voting on officers. Nor does it refer to ‘potentially affected members’.

“It seems that Ron’s real concern isn’t whether the constitution should be followed, but how to define ‘affected’. The fact is that virtually every union in the country—including the WGA and Actors’ Equity—has come up with an acceptable and accepted set of criteria. SAG (and AFTRA) can—and must—do it too.

“Ron is concerned about ‘people scraping by, the up-and-comers, and the kids working their first and second jobs’—I am too. It is precisely FOR those members that we need this. When I joined SAG (to shoot a Tampax commercial in Coney Island, no less!) I felt such gratitude that the members who proceeded me had used their experience and expertise to secure a contract that was now protecting me.

“Without a reasonable definition of ‘affected members’, Guild demographics put contract voting overwhelmingly in the hands of those with little knowledge of the contract and no stake in the outcome—and perhaps even a direct conflict of interest. This includes thousands of SAG card holders who work on crews, in writers’ rooms, in studio offices, in entertainment law firms, as management, etc. These members don’t act in film or TV, and their livelihoods would only be hurt if the union held out for a better contract by walking out. How hard will they fight to get actors a better deal?

“We are NOT asking for an earnings threshold. The number of days workednot amount of money earned—is the common test for ‘affected’ members. For work like ours, it must be averaged over a time span long enough to accommodate the inevitable ‘ups-and-downs’ of our business. The Equity standard is one job (typically at least 6-8 weeks) within the previous 6 years. I believe SAG should consider something similar – perhaps an average of 5 days of principal work and/or 15 days of background work per year, over the previous 6 years. (Three background days has been used as an equivalent of one principal day for union entrance.) Of course, the 6 year period would be prorated for newer members.

“A standard like this—for contract voting only—will broadly include members with working knowledge of the contract and some concrete stake in it. And because it eliminates the influence of those without such a stake, it will give the ‘affected’ members—those who depend on the contract and know it best—an effective voice. This gives maximum credibility to the vote and strengthens our hand in negotiations, which results in better contracts for all members, present and future.

“Ron says there may be a way to change how SAG votes that makes us a more effective union—that it’s a great idea and worth talking about. Once again, we agree.

“This IS that idea, and we are talking about it. And if ever we could benefit from a more effective union, it is right now.”