My Fellow Screen Actors Guild Members,Yesterday, on January 26th, a slim majority of our National Board voted to fire our National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator, Doug Allen. This was not accomplished in a face-to-face Board meeting, where the significant minority would have had an opportunity to voice its opinion and where Mr. Allen would have had a chance to face his accusers and address their concerns. Instead, this drastic action was accomplished by “written assent”, the most undemocratic provision allowed by our Constitution.
As your twice-elected National President, I feel that it is my responsibility to give you my perspective on yesterday’s events, although my ability to do so is somewhat limited. The same majority, 52.52%, that fired Mr. Allen also voted to change our Board policy that designated the National President to be one of the official spokespeople for the Guild. As of yesterday, the only two people who are permitted to officially speak for Screen Actors Guild are our newly appointed interim NED, David White, and John McGuire, our Senior Advisor from New York. The members now have no official voice. I appreciate the fact that Mr. White thinks it is preposterous to silence a duly elected national officer, and so has permitted me this forum, provided I inform you that what I am about to write represents my opinion. However, although I am not writing on behalf of the Guild, I believe I do speak for the nearly 48% percent of the Board who are deeply concerned about what was done yesterday and about how these changes were accomplished.
Many of us believe that Doug Allen was fired because he was simply too good, too strong, and too much a unionist. His greatest sin was in challenging the idea that we be bound by the concept of “pattern bargaining”, under which actors have been disadvantaged for decades. Doug gave us the courage to accept the fact that we had a legal right to pursue an agreement that addressed the specific needs of actors; that it is unreasonable to think that the DGA or WGA, without asking any questions pertaining to actors’ participation in “new media”, could strike a deal that would adequately address the concerns of our 120,000 members and the diverse nature and needs of a membership that includes middle class actors, background actors, stunt performers, singers, dancers and our biggest stars. I, and the majority of our negotiating committee, were amazed by Doug’s skill as a negotiator and team leader, and by his diigence and breadth of knowledge. We were profoundly moved by his love for and dedication to actors.
I have no doubt that, if our Board had demonstrated any solidarity whatsoever, Doug and our committee would have arrived at an acceptable deal some time ago. Instead, members of that Board engaged in a systematic effort to sabotage these negotiations by passing motions that prescribed courses of action, and then repudiating those motions, thereby throwing our leadership into a state of chaos and our membership into a state of confusion. This was done consistently and, I believe, intentionally, so that our progressive leadership would be made to appear inept, which would pave the way towards a return to the go-along-to-get-along days of yore.
Now there is a new lead negotiator in the person of John T. McGuire. Our Negotiating Committee has been replaced by a new, more moderate Task Force. You can expect that not long after this new team enters the Bargaining Room, they will be offered some “plum”, some concession from the AMPTP that was said, heretofore, to be unattainable. This will be given by our employers, not as an act of good will, but as a demonstration of the fact that “reasonableness” will be rewarded, while “militancy” will be punished. Make no mistake, if this should occur, if there is any gain made, or if we are ultimately able to resist one of the massive roll backs that has been demanded, it will not be due to the skill of this new “negotiating team”. Anything that is won from this point forward will still be the result of the enormously hard work put in by Doug Allen and the majority of the negotiating team that has been in place since our W and W caucuses began a year ago this February. I am enormously proud of that team, led by Doug , of which I was a member.
We were able to change the discussion about these existing deals from the obfuscatory claims that they were somehow “groundbreaking” to a sobering dialogue, illuminating just how damaging these new media deals might be to the prospects of a middle class actor’s ability to make a living.
You should know that the ability to get things accomplished by “written assent” was also available to the progressive leadership that held the majority in the Boardroom prior to the most recent election. That Draconian option was never employed, however. Despite what has been said about that majority, they always made democracy their highest priority. They understood that a slim majority of 52% or 53 % gave no one the right to ride roughshod over a significant minority; they understood what the use of such a tactic would do to democracy in our union; they never desired to open that Pandora’s Box. Unfortunately, now it has been opened and precedent has been set. I, and the previous Board majority, have always been willing to compromise on any issue. Compromise is the way things get accomplished in a contentious democracy such as ours. To date, I have not been approached by a single Board member from New York, the RBD, or from the ironically named slate “Unite for Strength”, to try and find common ground on any issue. If these elected officials desire to move forward in any significant way in the name of the members, this behavior must change.