Ousted SAG National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Doug Allen has written this open letter to respond to recent media coverage of SAG president Alan Rosenberg, who is currently under a SAG National Majority-imposed gag order. (Now, only Allen’s replacements, Interim NED David White and chief negotiator John McGuire, can speak on behalf of SAG.) A version of it was also made available to the Los Angeles Times, but I have no confidence that anti-union newspaper will run it. So here it is. I assume it will stir controversy since everything SAG-related always does:

Alan Rosenberg has been called to task in recent weeks by some of the press and bloggers for being a “hard-line” negotiator and for his comments regarding the state of the Screen Actors Guild and its negotiations with the AMPTP for a new contract with the studios and networks. Alan may wear his heart on his sleeve, but his heart is in exactly the right place.

The movie and TV industry is offering SAG a more than 99% reduction in residuals when a one hour show is re-run on new media vs. network TV. Instead of $3,300 for one network re-run, the AMPTP offer is for $23 for six months re-use of a network episode on new media (for 24 hours per day, after at least 17 days of use with no compensation). No less a source than FOX COO Peter Chernin has declared that Hulu (the new media channel co-owned by Fox and NBC) is a “replacement for re-runs.” The future is writ large.

The AMPTP also wants to eliminate the 70 year old force majeure protection for actors, produce original programming for new media on a non-union basis with the blessing of the union, or, even if such programming is produced union, with no minimum scale and no residuals for re-use on new media, ever. Once re-runs help Hulu build an audience, then cheap, original programming will follow as it did with cable, only with lightning speed.

A sunset clause is no protection. All the AMPTP has to do is take whatever they want to retain from this new contract and, at expiration, bargain to impasse and implement it. SAG would have to decide whether to strike, in that circumstance…the same leverage the union has now without a sunset clause.

Alan Rosenberg has spent years meeting with the New York and Regional Branch Division members in a heartfelt and genuine effort to listen to their needs and to unite this union. No other SAG President ever visited the entire membership branch by branch. That unity hasn’t yet happened, though through no fault of Alan Rosenberg’s.

SAG has too often been its own worst enemy. Because a substantial leadership minority holds out hope it will become the majority if a few board seats swing, there is little incentive in the short run to compromise and build a coalition to govern. That helps explain why, as the board majority and minority flip-flop yet again, David White is the eighth interim or permanent National Executive Director at SAG in 10 years.

Alan tried heroically to break that cycle, losing support from his political base as a result. Less than two years ago, he was almost defeated for re-election by Seymour Cassel, who wanted nothing to do with AFTRA or the AFL-CIO and wanted to close the five joint SAG/AFTRA offices immediately. Alan did not move to the extreme to win that election. He maintained his centrist positions: negotiate jointly with AFTRA, while working toward a fairer division of negotiating committee seats, and keep the joint offices open; work with the ATA to re-establish the SAG franchise for all agents; protect the institutional authority of each SAG division to determine its proportional representation on committees, to preserve the voice and influence of NY and the RBD, even when they were in the minority.

Alan has reached out regularly to SAG’s high profile members, to inform them and to listen to them. Many have supported his leadership. Some who haven’t have been oblivious to the facts or have been conflicted by their roles as producers of big budget movies or tv shows. Alan’s frustration when some high profile actors align with the industry rather than the membership is easy to understand.

It should not surprise anyone that Alan’s approach is personal and passionate. He represents the membership as a volunteer actor, elected by his peers, not as a paid professional. As with many SAG officers and board members, he is emotionally accessible. To be anything else would be dishonest.

Yes, he has always represented actors first, not the industry. That simply makes him a unionist, not a hard-liner. Alan has not been a “hard-line negotiator”. Most of the new media template proposed by the AMPTP was tentatively accepted by SAG last July. Despite his misgivings about management’s new media business model, Alan has bent over backwards to find a way to reach agreement with the industry. The immovable positions have been the AMPTP’s, not SAG’s. Calling him “hard-line” and his political opponents “moderates” is message-framing by the industry. An objective observer should know better than to fall for that bias.

In the first half of 2008, the DGA new media deal was heralded as “ground-breaking” and “excellent.” No one uses those terms anymore and most debate among union members is not about how good the deal is; rather it is about the best strategy to overcome it…whether to fight it now or to live to fight it another day. SAG President Alan Rosenberg has led the campaign to expose management’s unreasonable and intransigent demands for what they are, and, more than anyone else, he has changed that debate.

He deserves to be acknowledged and thanked for his selfless leadership, exercised at great personal cost, not dismissed by the facile, shallow and unsubstantiated disdain of some commentators..

Sincerely,
Doug Allen

[DHD NOTE: I have appointments this afternoon and will monitor comments later in the day.]