EXCLUSIVE: The Cinematographers Guild will hold a special national membership meeting next month to answer questions about the recent resignation of the guild’s president Lewis Rothenberg, who stepped down two weeks ago after only eight months on the job.
The meeting, set for March 7, comes after more than 900 members – about a tenth of the guild’s membership – signed a petition calling for such a meeting in advance of the March 15 national executive board meeting that will choose his successor.
“The single agenda item for the meeting will be to answer any questions surrounding the recent resignation of the national president and the process by which your national executive board will fill that position on March 15, as required under our governing documents,” said Dejan Georgevich, the guild’s interim national president, in a message to the guild’s members.
The meeting will be held live and via video conference at the guild’s offices in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Atlanta. “This meeting is being called for the same reason we have made the timeline available — to ensure transparency,” Georgevich said.
The petition, which organizers sent in an email blast last week to the guild’s members, said that the purpose of the meeting “is to have our questions answered and our voices heard regarding both the events surrounding, and the associated policies and practices in question relating to, Lewis’ resignation. In addition, we wish to discuss the upcoming Special Election.”
“I want full transparency from the NEB (national executive board) and I have questions I want answered,” wrote one signer.
“I think questions need to be answered and there must be transparency. I’d like to hear the whole story,” said another.
“I want to help correct the problems that led to Rothenberg’s resignation,” wrote another.
In his letter of resignation, Rothenberg told the guild’s members that “My vision for this union, as to who runs it and how it should be run, is not fully aligned with some of our senior staff and National Officers. While I truly believe everyone in the leadership of this Local has the members in mind, there are major ideological differences between some of us. I ran for this office to bring change, unite us, and increase activism. Regretfully I do not feel that I will be able to accomplish this with the vast differences of philosophy of the leadership team.”
Rothenberg, who resides in New Jersey but rented an apartment in Sherman Oaks, CA to meet the guild’s residency requirement, said another factor for his resignation was the union’s requirement that the president “must maintain…residence” in Southern California – a rule he disputed.
“I have willingly given up New York, the city where I have been gainfully employed for 40 years, to move to Los Angeles to honor my commitment and adhere to the C&BL (Constitution and Bylaws),” he told the members. “I have at my own expense shipped my car and my equipment package out here. I have turned down over 40 days of work in NY since October 20th, explaining to producers and crew members that I could not work as a local there any longer. In doing this, I asked our senior staff for an exception to the practice of providing three proofs of residence. I said that I could provide two proofs of residency, a sublet agreement and an internet service bill, but I could not provide a state issued document. I was advised that the senior staff was not comfortable granting me that exception and asked to send it to the National Officers. The National Officers were not able to come to a consensus agreement about whether the Local should accept the two documents that I am able to provide as sufficient.”
“This of course has put me in a very difficult situation of trying to decide if I can remain president of Local 600,” he said in his letter of resignation. “As a volunteer, the additional tax burden, on top of all the other financial and personal sacrifices this residency requirement has put on me and my family, is not something I can bear.”
The U.S. Department of Labor’s guidelines state that “A union may not limit eligibility for a general office, such as president, to a particular branch or segment of the union if the restriction deprives members who are not in the branch or segment of the right to hold that office. However, if a position represents a unit defined on a geographic, craft, shift, or similar basis, a union may limit candidate eligibility to members of that unit.”
“We are a national union. Stop the geographic discrimination,” said a signer of the petition.
“Any bylaw that doesn’t uniformly represent and support the collective voice of the members should be debated and amended at a public membership meeting,” wrote another. “Most of the officials on the NEB reside outside of California either full time or part time. Therefore, it should not be a requirement for the president to reside in California on a full time basis. It’s a technicality based on an antiquated bylaw that is counterproductive to equal treatment.”
The guild’s constitution says a resolution to amend the constitution may be submitted by “a petition signed by not less than ten percent (10%) of the members then in good standing.”
Rothenberg was elected president of the guild – IATSE Local 600 – last May, defeating longtime incumbent Steven Poster. Rothenberg, a digital imaging technician whose credits include Avengers: Infinity War, The Girl on the Train and the 2016 Ghostbusters remake, had previously been the guild’s national vice president for two terms under Poster and had served on the national executive board for 13 year before stepping away from union politics three years ago. His three-year term as president of the 8,600-member union began on June 22, 2019, and ended with his resignation February 14.