Ballots will go out Tuesday in the election of officers for IATSE Cinematographers Guild Local 600. Steven Poster, who’s been president of the guild since 2006, is being challenged by Paul Ferrazzi, its former national secretary-treasurer, and Lewis Rothenberg, the guild’s former national vice president. Typically, in three-way union elections, the advantage goes to the incumbent, with dissident votes being split among the challengers. Ballots will be counted May 3.
Poster and Ferrazzi have been political rivals for more than a decade. Ferrazzi had been the local’s national secretary-treasurer in 2006 when Poster filed charges against Gary Dunham, the guild’s president, accusing him of violating the authority of the guild’s national executive board by posting a statement on the guild’s website urging members to reject ratification of a new film and TV contract. The board then ousted Dunham and narrowly elected Poster to replace him. Ferrazzi, who had been Dunham’s running mate, called it a “coup.”
Poster is seeking re-election on a platform of union solidarity. “I believe eﬀective leadership knows how to work in solidarity with the IATSE, other locals, our staﬀ, and especially each other to achieve our goals. We should be resolving problems, not creating them,” he said in his campaign statement.
Ferrazzi, a harsh critic of Poster’s “autocratic rule,” said in his campaign statement that “when president Poster uses Unity he means Silence, and Solidarity equates to Fealty” – the loyalty of a feudal tenant to its master.
Ferrazzi was a friend and ally of the late-Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who was the guild’s second vice president when Dunham was ousted. Dunham, Wexler and Ferrazzi had been running in the 2004 election that brought them to power.
Until his death in 2016, Wexler had been the longtime leader of the fight for shorter industry workdays following the 1997 death of camera assistant Brent Hershman, who was killed when he fell asleep at the wheel and slammed his car into a utility pole while driving home from a job after working a 19-hour day – which had been preceded by four 15-hour days on the film Pleasantville.
When Wexler died, he was facing a trial on union charges that had been brought by Alan Gitlin, who was then the guild’s national secretary-treasurer and Poster’s longtime running mate. Gitlin accused Wexler of posting a recording of a guild membership meeting on an unlisted You Tube account in violation of the guild’s constitution and by-laws. At that meeting, Wexler tried to convince the union’s leaders – as he had many times before – to honor their promise to fight against the industry’s brutally long workdays.
In his campaign statement, Ferrazzi blasted Poster for endorsing last year’s film and TV contract that saw the Editors Guild standing alone in its opposition to the contract’s ratification, which saw some gains for shorter hours but not for on-call employees or for IATSE members working on TV pilots and first season episodics. The shorter hours also only applied to those employed on feature films and longform TV shows who work two consecutive 14-hour days. And West Coast members of the Editors Guild only got a nine-hour turnaround – one hour less than all the other locals – with the only penalty being an additional hour of straight time pay if the ninth hour is invaded.
“President Poster did back down to the most important opportunity to address long hours since Brent Hershman’s preventable death 22 years ago,” Ferrazzi said in his statement. “He chose instead to abandon and vilify the Editors Guild, protecting the industry status quo he represents. Under Poster’s autocratic rule, how many more of our members will need to be recognized by emergency medical technicians riﬂing through their pockets looking for ID?”
Wexler died before his union trial could be held, but Gitlin, who’d brought the charges, later would be brought up on charges by Poster, his former running mate, and by secretary-treasurer Edward Avila – who defeated Gitlin in 2016 and currently is seeking re-election. In October 2017, a nine-member union trial board found Gitlin guilty of misappropriating some $26,000 in hotel rewards points that rightly belonged to the union. An earlier trial board had found him guilty of taking another $3,301 in credit card points and computer equipment.
In his campaign statement, Ferrazzi accused Poster and his slate of having “ignored their ﬁduciary responsibility to conduct an independent forensic audit and allowed Poster’s running mate for three terms (Gitlin) to maintain possession of guild property, a potential source of additional evidence of ﬁnancial malfeasance. Financial trustees were locked out of any oversight involvement of the investigation – instead it was conducted by two conﬂicted employees.”
Poster, meanwhile, also is running on the “tangible results” of the gains the guild has made during his presidency. Here is a portion of his campaign statement:
“When ﬁrst elected president, I envisioned our local’s potential to be a progressive force in members’ lives and careers. We’ve come a long way, but we’re not done. I am asking again for your vote as president to continue this work.
“I started as a kid from Chicago, coming in from the outside. The path to membership was closely guarded. A woman or person of color might as well forget it. Nobody cared much about any technology that wasn’t ﬁlm and only about 40% of our work was under contract.
“Whether it’s through mastering a new technology or gaining respect for below-the-line positions, I embrace the need for change. Unionism gives our local the power to re-stack the odds in our own favor. I believe in our ability to eﬀect change.
“I believe our local should not only negotiate and defend our contracts, but nurture careers, lead the charge to use technological change to create new job opportunities, strengthen our crafts, and be a force in creating fair, safe and wholesome work environments, forming a level playing ﬁeld for every member.
“I believe in volunteerism and that our local is best led by oﬃcers with deep experience in our crafts, broad contacts within our industry and a strong desire to give back. Any payment to members for service to the local should be closely monitored to be fair, appropriate and necessary.
“I believe eﬀective leadership knows how to work in solidarity with the IATSE, other locals, our staﬀ, and especially each other to achieve our goals. We should be resolving problems, not creating them.
“I believe member engagement means truly communicating with all our members, cultivating a meaningful and productive dialog, not just Facebook.”
Rothenberg, the third candidate, said that if elected, “Getting member participation in our union will be my number one priority.” Rothenberg, the only presidential candidate running from the guild’s Eastern region, said he will “continue to work hard for our union as a whole, but also look out for our individual regions. I believe strongly in a national union, but I feel we have to acknowledge our regional diﬀerences and strive to make things better for us all.”
“Those who know mecan attest to my diligence and integrity,” he added. “I pride myself in my independence, and in being able to listen to all sides, and make objective decisions. During my tenure on the Board I have proven my ability to function with all of our members and to constantly strive for what is best for our Union regardless of politics.”
“I am encouraged with the progress that has been made these past three years since I stepped down as national vice president,” he wrote, “but I feel that a lot more can be done. I feel that we need to be less of a top down organization, and that we need to start internally organizing at the grass roots level. If elected, I will look to not only continue the progress that has been made, but also look at expanding it, with more two-way communication between the membership, elected leaders, and staﬀ.”