In a move that could send shock waves throughout the leadership of every major Hollywood union and guild, the U.S. Department of Labor has ordered Scott Roth, executive director of the Art Directors Guild, to stand for election for the first time since he was brought in to lead the union in 1997.

Art Directors Guild 2For nearly two decades, he has been re-upped every three years by the guild’s board of directors — and served at its pleasure. But now the DOL has ruled that Roth is an “officer” of IATSE Local 800 and not an “employee,” as defined by the Labor/Management Reporting & Disclosure Act, and therefore must stand for election by the union’s members every three years. The DOL also ruled that the guild’s associate executive director, Bill Thomas, also must stand for election. A special election now must be completed before June 30.

While the ruling only affects the Art Directors Guild, it raises questions about why the executive directors of Hollywood’s other guilds and unions don’t have to stand for election, as is the case with SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild and IATSE’s Editors Guild and Cinematographer’s Guild.

“While Local 800’s constitution and bylaws state that the executive director reports to the board of directors and the councils, this oversight nevertheless permits the executive director a great deal of independent decision-making authority with regard to personnel supervision, signature authority, enforcement of the CBA and union rules, contract negotiations, organizing, union administration, and negotiating committee memberships,” wrote Andrew R. Davis, chief of the DOL’s division of interpretations and standards, in a December 24 letter to the guild’s attorneys (read it here). “Further, this oversight is typical of unions with an executive board in addition to executive officers.”

Davies noted that because Roth and Thomas “perform executive functions, directly or by delegation, the executive director and associate executive director of IATSE Local 800 are officers pursuant to the LMRDA. They must be elected every three years pursuant to the LMRDA and meet the other requirements of the Act as covered officers.”

The DOL’s letter spelled out what constitutes an “officer” – and who must stand for election, rather than being appointed by the Art Directors Guild’s board of directors. It also describes the duties of the guild’s executive director, many of which are shared by the unelected executive directors of Hollywood’s other guilds and unions, including serving as chief contract negotiator and in charge of enforcing the union’s jurisdiction and directing its organizing efforts.

The letter notes that the regulations state that “the purpose of the election requirement of the Act is to assure that persons in positions of control in labor organizations will be responsive to the desires of the members.”

The ruling was prompted by a complaint filed with the DOL by veteran art director Jack Taylor, who’s also a trustee of the local and a member of its constitution committee.