EXCLUSIVE: The federally mandated election is underway at the Art Directors Guild, with production designer Chuck Parker seeking to oust executive director Scott Roth, who has run the union since September 1997. The historic vote marks the first time that Roth will have had to stand for election.

Chuck Parker
Courtesy of Chuck Parker

“Eighteen years is enough,” Parker said in a campaign statement. “We need a change in leadership style and all the fear-mongering in the world won’t change that. What we’re missing is a clear vision and an individual who wants to move this union into the 21st century and keep our members competitive in what is now a global market.”

The guild is at a unique moment in its history. In December, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered it to hold an election for its top two offices – national executive director and associate executive director. Up until now, those reps had been appointed by the guild’s board of directors, who weren’t elected directly by the members either but were appointed the four craft Councils.

The election offers two contrasting views about union leadership, raising the question: Are members better served by having a lawyer as its leader who’s experienced at negotiating contracts, or a rank-and-file member who actually knows what it’s like to work under those contracts?

Negotiating collective bargaining agreements is one of the key jobs performed by the guild’s executive director, and Parker, whose credits include Monk and Under the Dome, acknowledged that he “does not have labor relations negotiating experience other than what we all share as part of our jobs as department heads. But there are experienced professional people available and willing to help.”

scott-roth
Courtesy of Scott Roth

Roth, a lawyer and longtime labor leader, noted that Parker, “a veteran and talented art director/production designer, is, however, neither a lawyer nor labor professional. He has never represented union members, whether in grievance/arbitration, labor negotiations or by otherwise managing the business affairs of a labor organization. Ask yourself: Would you have a lawyer art-direct your movie? Probably not. So why would you have an art director run your union?”

Parker, however, says that Roth, as a lawyer, has known for years that the guild’s constitution and by-laws were not in compliance with federal law governing union elections, and did nothing about it. A flier supporting Parker’s candidacy even accuses Roth of trying to cover that up. It claims that Roth knew about the problem – which led the DOL to order the ongoing election – as far back as 2008.The flier also accused Roth of ignoring the advice of a guild lawyer who reportedly told Roth via email on October 30, 2014, that the guild’s method of electing board members “does not comply” with federal labor law. The flier claims that five days later, Roth sent an email to the guild’s recording secretary, instructing her to not circulate the lawyer’s email among the membership.

The flier also said that Roth didn’t even show up to negotiate the IATSE’s recent TV commercials contract in New York, where the guild was represented by its organizer, who goes by the name of dooner, a candidate for associate executive director.

“Does experience as an attorney and negotiator matter if you are not at the table?” the flier asked. “Doesn’t it seem odd that everyone is so concerned with having an attorney as executive director, and afraid to change, but to negotiate the commercial art directors’ contract last week, Scott Roth wasn’t even near the commercial art directors negotiating table in New York with the IA heads … It was dooner! So why pay for attorney Scott Roth when he sits in LA and has others do the work he is paid for?”

Much of the discontent within the union – and there is a lot of it – stems from the forced merger by then-IATSE International President Tommy Short of the IA’s art department locals, which represented art directors, scenic artists, illustrators and set designers, swelling the guild’s ranks from 650 members 13 years ago to nearly 2.500 today.

“I will consistently foster the notion of solidarity within the ranks of our local,” Parker said in his campaign statement. “The philosophy of the structure of our union office must change into one that is more responsive to the members and better serves this weird polyglot that we’ve become. We have allowed ourselves to be divided and have become polarized rather than embracing the very differences that can be used to our advantage. There is a reason the rift between our crafts has festered and I will do everything within my power to end it.”

If elected, Parker says the guild’s constitution will be rewritten “immediately” to bring it into compliance with federal law. He says his office will always be open to all members of the guild; that he’ll bring in more field reps, and hire new attorneys.

The guild’s current law firm, Bush Gottlieb, has been a particular sore spot for many of the guild’s dissidents. A campaign flier supporting Parker accused Roth of racking up $384,714 in legal fees with the Bush Gottlieb firm since 2009, and spending over $120,000 in legal fees dealing with the DOL leading up to this election.

See his campaign statement here.

But pointing out problems is not the same as resolving them, and that’s where Roth says his knowledge and experience makes him the best qualified candidate.

“I was a key player in the labor/industry coalition which passed California’s AB 1839, the landmark tax incentive program which, since its passage a few years ago, has brought thousands of good-paying jobs back to California,” he said in his campaign statement. “In my time here we’ve gone from rented office space (1,700 sq. ft.) to owning our own headquarters building in Studio City; we have a robust website, a cutting edge magazine, Perspective, celebrating our crafts’artists and artistry, a trend-setting and eclectic Film Society, a vibrant artist’s gallery in NoHo, and numerous training and educational programs for all our members’ needs.”

See Roth’s list of his accomplishments here.

“If I win this election and am given the privilege to continue serving as your executive director,” he wrote, “I will work tirelessly to break down the barriers, in the workplace and, at times, in the boardroom, that can occur among our crafts. I pledge to work with all stakeholders to assure that greater unity is a reality, and not a slogan.”

See his goals for the future here.

Parker has been endorsed by two former presidents of the guild: Mimi Gramatky, who’s running for the board, and Jackson de Govia. He also has the support of Jack G. Taylor Jr., who first brought the election issue to the DOL, and is running for a seat on the board of directors.

“Our executive director is a lawyer who has led us into a terrible mess, and spent seventeen years and a lot of our money doing so,” de Govia said in his statement of support. “He has given us a constitution declared illegal by the Department of Labor – we have to rewrite it and unify the local he has fractured. We need new leadership at the top of our local. Chuck Parker is a talented, level-headed production designer who broke into the union by organizing a non-union show… He knows how to do the job and he respects our crafts. He will stand up for our rights in contract negotiations and he will engage management constructively…We don’t need a lawyer to lead the local, we need someone who knows that we hire lawyers; we don’t work for them.”

Roth’s supporters include Tom Wilkins, the local’s secretary; Marcia Hinds, the chair of the Art Directors Council; Lisa Frazza, recording secretary of the Scenic, Title & Graphic Artists Council; board member Jim Fiorito; and four-time Oscar-nominated art director Jeannine Oppewall, who had this to say: “There are times when enthusiasm and righteous rage should trump experience. And there are times when experience should trump enthusiasm and righteous rage. Given the current choices, it seems to me that experience should hold the trump card in this election.”

Three candidates are running for associate executive director – the guild’s second-ranking office. Incumbent Bill Thomas, the former executive director of AFTRA’s Los Angeles local, said in his campaign statement that he is “the only person in this race who has served as both an executive director and associate executive director of a labor union. The only person that has served as lead negotiator in national and local negotiations.  The only candidate who has served for eight years on the Actors Fund, serves as a trustee on the Entertainment Industry Flex Plan, serves as vice chair of FilmLA (the city’s film office), has years of strong relationships across our industry, and helped execute the successful creation of SAG-AFTRA.”

“My opponents,” he wrote, “are artists with talent and experience. They create magic onscreen, yet not one of them has ever been an associate executive director. Should any of them win, our employers and producers will be very happy to take advantage of their lack of experience in contract negotiations, grievances, arbitrations and benefits.”

Two opposition candidates are running against him, which could split the dissident vote and give him a better chance of remaining in office.

One of the candidates, Chris Brandt – a storyboard artist on St. Vincent – said in his campaign statement that he’s “worked as a producer, director, assistant director, and storyboard artist for 15 years. I have negotiated contracts with producers, actors, SAG, and corporations. I am not a lawyer, but the ADG pays for lawyers. What we need in the positions of representation being considered for election are people who understand the entertainment workplace, understand the personalities and concerns in production, and can properly address our needs.”

The other challenger in the race for associate executive director is the guild’s organizer, who goes by the name dooner, and whose credits include assistant art director on Big Love. “You are about to cast the most important ballot in our guild’s history,” he said in a campaign statement, noting that he is the only candidate “with experience both as a labor professional and working in art departments.” He’s also the former president and interim business rep of the guild’s sister union – IATSE Script Supervisors Local 871.

As part of the DOL mandate, 12 board seats are up for grabs.