The SAG-AFTRA board of directors has unanimously approved a statement denouncing as “deplorable” a recent letter that accused the union’s top staff of a laundry list of financial misdeeds. The board, however, also approved a motion to ask the union’s general counsel – who is one of the accused – to “direct an independent outside counsel to review, with the assistance of an auditor, the questions raised in the correspondence.” That review was requested by SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris and national executive director David White.
The letter, sent to the board on Friday, accused White of charging the union for limousine services to attend events; flying first class and business class to attend conferences and using frequent flier mileage to cover members of his family to accompany him; and charging the union for seven different cell phone numbers, including ones used by members of his family. The letter, signed by a group of actors called United Screen Artists Committee, made similar claims against three other top SAG-AFTRA execs, including COO and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.
“Largely repeating allegations made and discredited years ago,” the board said, “the national board finds deplorable the decision of these individuals to attempt to undermine member confidence in our union on the eve of crucial contract negotiations. The national board is certain, however, that SAG-AFTRA members’ confidence in their union remains unshaken. Furthermore, the national board approves of the decision of the president and national executive director to ask the General Counsel to direct independent outside counsel to review, with the assistance of an auditor, the questions raised in the correspondence, and looks forward to the report of that review.”
The letter also claims that since the merger, “The union appears to have used union funds, or monies belonging to the membership, to purchase at least two properties, in Nashville and in the San Fernando Valley. With respect to Nashville, AFTRA had purchased the building in 1981 but did not report the purchase in federal filings. In 2005, the corporate name of Nashville Local – AFTRA was changed to Nashville Performers Building Corporation, but not reported in federal filings. Instead, LM-2 filings showed that AFTRA was a ‘tenant’ of a real estate firm known as the Nashville Performers Building Corporation, to which it was disbursing monies. After merger, SAG-AFTRA continued this fraud for over two and a half years, then in late 2014 filed SAG-AFTRA as a foreign nonprofit corporation in Tennessee and purchased the building it already owned, paying itself $824,800 and failing to report the transaction in federal filings.”
Former SAG president Ed Asner, who was one of the letter’s signers, did not attend the board meeting, held this weekend in Los Angeles.
In other action, the board voted to set election and governance rules for the upcoming national convention; established a negotiating committee for the upcoming contract talks with Telemundo, and unanimously approved a successor agreement covering music video performers with the major record labels.
“This was the first agreement SAG-AFTRA negotiated after merger and it continues to be a testament to the strength and influence of our combined union,” Carteris said. “I want to salute the negotiators, staff and committee members who helped us reach this groundbreaking agreement.”
Crabtree-Ireland, who acted as co-lead negotiator on the music video talks with the major record labels, said: “I would like to thank my co-lead negotiator Stefanie Taub and everyone who participated in our W&W process. The robust input from our members who work this contract was integral to achieving the gains in this deal.”
During the two-day plenary, national board members participated in a ceremony marking the dedication of the Ken Howard Membership Center, which took place April 21, 2017. Howard’s widow, Linda Howard, attended the dedication at SAG-AFTRA Plaza together with Carteris, Executive Vice President Rebecca Damon, Secretary-Treasurer Jane Austin, National Executive Director David White and National Honors and Tributes Committee Chair Jenny O’Hara, Vice-chairs Kevin Scullin and Don Ahles.
The board also reiterated its commitment to the ongoing video games strike. Chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez noted that the union had now signed 30 games and 23 companies to the terms of its new, independently-negotiated video game agreements. Of those, 26 are high-budget games.
“We are right now moving in a direction of organizing around these companies and resetting the industry standard,” said Rodriguez. “We are breaking down barriers, and making progress on our organizing efforts. Our members are prepared to continue until there is a fair resolution to our ongoing strike against the 11 video game corporations.”
Carteris opened the meeting in memory of past President Ken Howard and recalled last April’s board meeting at which she was elected president. Carteris reported on several achievements over the last year including the successful merger of the health plans, the direct deposit pilot program, the Telemundo unionization vote and the public launch of the member mobile app.
“It has been a productive year that has fundamentally strengthened our union,” Carteris said. “Together, we empower the membership every day. We help ensure that SAG-AFTRA continues to evolve and meet the changing needs of our members in a rapidly changing industry.”
Carteris noted that the upcoming Billboard Latin Music Awards will for the first time be covered by SAG-AFTRA and recalled the emotional moment that the Telemundo vote was counted by the National Labor Relations Board in Florida last month.
“We have changed hundreds, perhaps thousands of performers’ lives for the better,” she said. “And I salute their courage and their willingness to insist on having a voice in their work. Now comes the hard work of securing our first contract with Telemundo. We look forward to productive negotiations.”
Carteris briefed the board on her recent work in Washington, D.C., including joining Representatives Judy Chu and Doug Collins, Co-chairs of the Congressional Creative Rights Caucus, at the “Beyond the Red Carpet” reception and expo. In addition, she reported on TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast where she vigorously advocated for continued arts funding as part of the “Public Funding of the Arts: The New Priorities” panel.
White, meanwhile, updated the board on preparations for the upcoming TV/Theatrical negotiations and provided an overview of recently completed, as well as future contract negotiations that will impact members across multiple industries. White also updated the board on the many organizing efforts across SAG-AFTRA’s contract areas.
White gave the board a strategic update on the ongoing video games strike. He also highlighted elements of the union’s expanding contract enforcement efforts across the country that include direct action with employers, enhanced outreach to members and their professional representatives, and working directly with members to re-enforce Global Rule One to ensure SAG-AFTRA members work only on union projects.
“Five years in, by increasing our focus on the core functions of this union, we continue to improve our ability to engage members directly to enforce our agreements, and to expand our capacity to negotiate contracts and organize work in multiple industries,” White said. “We have made extraordinary progress since merger and, in many ways, we are just getting started.”
White also provided an update on operations, including the innovative use of technology to improve the various functions within the union, and reviewed structural changes that will improve the union’s overall effectiveness.
Crabtree-Ireland and Taub provided a detailed description of the highlights of the tentative two-year successor music video agreement, which expires April 30, 2019. The deal provides the first-ever share of revenues from the streaming of music videos for performers at 0.25% of the labels’ gross revenue for covered music videos. It established minimum rates for the first time for dancers in music videos with budgets between $100-200K. And also for the first time, recognizes and covers background actors in music videos with a budget greater than $50K, with the first ten background actors in each music video covered. This will create an estimated 1,500 new union jobs for background performers over two years.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, reported on the formation of the Telemundo negotiating committee. Committee members’ names are not disclosed. Negotiations will take place in May on specific dates yet to be announced.
Austin and Chief Financial Officer Arianna Ozzanto presented the fiscal year 2018 budget. This projection continues to build on the union’s trend of multi-million dollar operating surpluses. It was unanimously approved.
Damon and Crabtree-Ireland delivered a governance report covering Executive Committee actions, administrative and governance matters including convention rules and election guidelines and other matters. Chief Deputy General Counsel Jeffrey Bennett updated the SAG-AFTRA board on recent federal policy and legislative initiatives, including funding for the NEA/NEH/CPB, support for the Register of Copyrights Selection & Accountability Act and support for the Fair Play Fair Pay Act. He also reported on the upcoming World IP Day, August 26th, and encouraged the board to express their support for the Beijing Treaty via social media on the 26th as part of a worldwide campaign to draw attention to the treaty.
The 2017 SAG-AFTRA National Convention styled “Our Union, Our Strength, Our Future” will be held Oct. 6 – 8 at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Los Angeles.