jobethwilliamsUPDATED: One of MembershipFirst’s most prominent members, SAG 2JoBeth Williams, has decided to leave the Screen Actors Guild’s National Board before her term is completed. Officially, she only cited time constraints as her reason for leaving. But her exit comes after serving 5 years of her two 3-year terms and follows Unite For Strength’s pickup of seats in the last two SAG elections. I’ve learned several other high profile MF’ers also are thinking of leaving their seats on the SAG national and Hollywood governing bodies now that their side isn’t in control of the guild anymore.

They tell me they’re demoralized by the future prospect of SAG-AMPTP negotiations. Now that SAG will bargain jointly with AFTRA, the MFers fear SAG’s current leadership is determined to accept a TV/Theatrical contract that will further reduce residuals and benefits and work opportunities for SAG (the LA-headquartered primary actors guild) so it’s more in line with the lesser terms of AFTRA (the NY-based union that reps broadcast professionals).

Other complaints I’m hearing from the MF’ers have to do with the increasing lack of transparency surrounding SAG’s national board meetings. They claim the current leadership keeps its agenda secret and dissent muzzled both inside and outside the boardroom in order to ensure actors stay uninformed. As a result, rumors are rampant. The latest is that the current SAG leadership will try to radically change the composition of the SAG negotiating committee by removing some of the “old MF stalwarts” who’ve long fought with the AMPTP for a better TV/Theatrical contract and replace them with “new UFS moderates”. Those MF worries will heighten since, as soon as October 1st, SAG and AFTRA will begin 7 weeks of talks with the Big Media networks and studios over the primetime-feature master pact. Both the SAG and AFTRA deals expire June 30, 2011.

How tough bargaining will be depends on who’s seated on SAG’s national board as well as negotiating committee. This is why, prior to the March 13th videoconferenced SAG National Plenary Meeting, MF sent out an urgent email with the subject line, “Screen Actors Guild Members, our Guild is under attack –you’re DESPERATELY NEEDED”  and called for a protest rally.

Even by MF estimates, only 30 people showed up.

MF’ers now are pinning their hopes for a comeback on what they claim is mounting unhappiness among SAG’s working actor membership because of a seismic shift which started in 2009 and worsened during this year’s TV pilot season — resulting in 79 scripted dramatic TV programming pilots going to AFTRA’s jurisdiction. That’s 90% of all the new television shows ordered, according to MF. “Recent developments within the Board and Governance of the Screen Actors Guild have shown concerned SAG Members that OUR UNIONS’ GOVERNANCE IS DOING NOTHING TO RECOVER OR ADDRESS THE MASSIVE LOSS OF TELEVISION PILOT CONTRACTS TO AFTRA,” a mid-March email went out from MF. “Our representatives have previously stated that they will fight to keep the Screen Actors Guild ‘in the game’ for this upcoming pilot season. Many of them swore this to the members of the Screen Actors Guild upon their election as our representative officials.  This is a lie.

“…The last Hollywood Board Meeting uncovered the disturbing truth that OUR OWN UNIONS’ GOVERNANCE–ELECTED BOARD MEMBERS AS WELL AS STAFF–are doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to help the Members of the Screen Actors Guild.  Many of us have lost our health insurance, and are desperately struggling to pay our bills and feed our families as a direct result.

“…Although a significant quadrant of our elected Board Members are fighting tooth and nail for the rank and file members of this union such as you and I–there is a large National Board Majority that DOES NOT HAVE THE INTERESTS OF THE WORKING-CLASS SAG ACTOR AT HAND.

“…Many of us are seeing firsthand, how inferior AFTRA Contracts are for actors as far as our SALARIES and PROTECTIONS.  If we sit idly by and allow this moderate regime to destroy SAG, we will have given up EVERYTHING that has been fought for in this Union for generations.  We will lose a fair and decent wage for performers, massive monetary losses to each of us with yearly residual income, and our Vastly superior Pension Plan and our superior Health Plan.  This is what we will be stuck with if we don’t STAND UP.”

As one dispirited MF’er thinking of exiting a SAG national board seat because of all of the above wrote me recently as to why, “It just makes me sick to my stomach. It’s time for me to move on to other interests.”

As for Williams, JoBeth was one of MF’s top vote-getters because SAG members tend to choose guild leaders based on an actor’s celebrity and name recognition. But, for her first 3-year term, MF controlled SAG. However, when she was reelected to another 3-year term in 2008, MF lost the leadership by a narrow margin which then widened after 2009’s elections. Last year, another prominent MF’er, Justine Bateman, resigned her SAG national board seat mid-term “to speak freely” about its decision-making.

MF’er Jane Austin will sub for Williams until the seat becomes open in next September’s election. But maybe the time has come for MF to give way to a new SAG faction with fresh faces and similar goals to fatten the big actors guild’s AMPTP contract but without so much historical baggage — the same way that counter camp Unite For Strength was created in 2008 to form a coalition with the NY branch and Regional Divisions and win SAG elections as the new majority.

Just a thought.