collins.jpgHere’s another opinion piece written for me from an actor involved in the effort to get SAG to adopt a consistent “affected member” voting strategy, Stephen Collins. The petition drive signers want an earnings threshold requirement for “qualified voting” on the union’s contract issues. I’ve been told that Amy Brenneman and Ned Vaughn and others met this month with SAG prez Alan Rosenberg about it. (For an opposing viewpoint, see Ron Livingston‘s):

“As one of the members who helped frame it, I’m hoping to clear up some confusion regarding the affected member voting proposal that over 1,300 SAG and AFTRA members are urging our unions to adopt. [The proposal, list of supporters, and other pertinent information are now available at www.workingactorsvoice.com.]

“This proposal applies only to voting on contract ratification. Every member would still receive ballots for all other referenda (including strike authorization), as well as for board elections and elections of officers. Our proposal wouldn’t impact any other aspect of membership. Affected member voting is the only issue we’re dealing with. Negotiation timelines, or whether to strike are issues that may concern us individually, but this proposal has one simple purpose: to strengthen SAG and AFTRA by adopting a common-sense definition of an “affected” member.

“The standard we’ve proposed for voting on the TV/Theatrical contract isn’t elitist—it’s modest and reasonable, based on standard labor practice in and out of the entertainment industry. An average of 5 days of principal work or 15 days of background work per year (or the equivalent in residuals) ensures that members voting on the contract have some concrete stake in the outcome. The proposal also includes all vested members who have worked under the contract.

“It’s worth noting that this is an initial proposal. It may evolve as it’s discussed and prepared for final Board consideration.

“No constitutional changes are needed to put this proposal into effect. On the contrary, the constitutions of both unions already require that contracts be ratified by “the membership affected thereby,” and a definition of “affected” can be adopted in either union by a simple majority vote of its national board. We’re simply urging the boards to adopt a meaningful definition of “affected” for ALL contracts — as they already have for some.

“Recent reports suggest that SAG and AFTRA will negotiate the TV/Theatrical contract together.  A joint meeting of the national boards has been scheduled for March 29th, and we’ll request that a joint committee be appointed to review and refine our proposal. Such a review will add to the research we’ve already done and yield a final proposal that can be voted on by the boards prior to the ratification vote.

“This proposal is a powerful opportunity for both unions—especially in the context of a joint negotiation. Once it’s adopted, AFTRA’s broadcasters will no longer be voting on actors’ contracts. Nor will SAG members like CBS President Les Moonves, director Steven Spielberg, producer Harvey Weinstein, and Variety Editor Peter Bart. Nor will many grips, makeup and hair artists, writers, and producers—thousands of whom hold SAG cards, but don’t work as actors. A few years ago, I ran for the SAG Board while working on 7th Heaven, and I was stunned to find that the number of crew members with SAG cards outnumbered our actual cast. Would these grips, electricians, makeup artists, producers, or writers ever vote NO on a SAG contract?

“Finally, I’ve seen many references to actors’ dreams from those who oppose this effort.  Indeed, we all start with a dream and I’m utterly sympathetic to those whose dreams have not yet been realized. But contract voting is not about dreams—it’s about the all-too-real challenges of making a living in a very tough business. And one way to help any actor make that dream a reality is to provide solid contracts to work under.  That’s where our proposal can help.

“It’s time for SAG and AFTRA to recognize—as the WGA, DGA and Actors’ Equity already have—the power that comes from making sure that those who vote on contracts have a concrete stake in them.  Our proposal not only provides a way to harness that power, but will cut through the institutional disagreements and bring the focus back to the fundamental reason both unions exist:  to secure and enforce the strongest possible contracts for the members who depend on them.