Posted: Mon., Sep. 15, 2003, 10:00pm PT
SAG board suit looming
2 members claim dual officers not in compliance with law
By DAVE MCNARY
Labor Issues Around This Date
SAG has been formally notified it will face a federal conflict-of-interest lawsuit if it continues to allow nine of its elected officers to also serve as AFTRA board members.
“We firmly contend that such officers violate their fiduciary duties to SAG and its members as a group by holding simultaneous fiduciary duties to both SAG and AFTRA,” said Hollywood-based SAG members Rick Barker and Gilbert Combs, who served SAG with the complaint on Monday. “A man or woman cannot serve two competing masters without abandoning one.”
The action contends that the “adversarial” relationship between SAG and AFTRA makes it impossible for the dual board members to be in compliance with federal labor law. It cites ongoing and “ever increasing” jurisdictional conflicts over digitally produced programming; financial decisions by elected leaders involving “shared expenses” between the two unions; and policy differences that affect the wages and conditionsof employment of SAG members.
SAG had no immediate response to the complaint, which names as defendants Maureen Donnelly, Cece Dubois, David Hartly-Margolin, Sumi Haru, Gerald Kline, Paul Napier, Eileen Parkinson, Paul Petersen and Spike Sorrentino. Barker and Combs said four additional AFTRA board members who are seeking SAG offices in the current election will be added to the suit if they win in next week’s SAG election.
Barker, a former national board member, and Combs, a former co-chair of SAG’s national board stunt and safety committee, told Daily Variety they will wait a week for a response from SAG and will file the suit if SAG fails to change its conflict-of-interest policy to reflect the provisions of the Labor Management Reporting & Disclosure Act of 1959. The complaint will seek a court order forcing SAG to change its policy, alongwith forcing the officers to repay any expenses they charged to SAG while serving as dual board members.
Barker and Combs said they decided to file the formal complaint after SAG officials expressed no interest in addressing the issue during the past year.
The complaint came two months after an attempt to “consolidate and affiliate” SAG with AFTRA fell 2% short of the required 60% approval by
SAG members. The pro-merger campaign stressed the need to avoid ongoing jurisdictional conflicts as a key reason for combining the unions.
Federal law cited
The complaint notes that SAG and AFTRA voted in 1981 to take the first steps toward merger and that the unions lawfully cooperate in many areas, such as joint negotiation of the film-TV and commercials contracts, sharing offices and uniting on industry and political issues. But it argues that federal labor law specifically precludes SAG officers from dealing with SAG as an “adverse party.”
“SAG national board members who owe ‘simultaneous fiduciary duties’ to AFTRA are acting ‘in behalf of an adverse party’ when deciding whether to go after jobs, dues and pension contributions for a TV or feature film production which might be represented by AFTRA instead,” the complaint said.
Furthermore, the complaint alleges, dual board members will be obliged to “stick it to SAG” in allocation of shared costs and to favor AFTRA on policy issues where the unions have differed, such as easing ownership restrictions on talent agencies and strategies in stopping runaway production. It also contends that policy differences also arise from AFTRA negotiating 1,000 contracts while SAG negotiates five.
Clashes not new
Clashes between SAG and AFTRA date back to the early 1950s, when the unions fought bitterly over the burgeoning field of TV, with AFTRA bringing cases before the National Labor Relations Board. That panel ruled in favor SAG, which decided to leave live presentation to AFTRA.
In 1956, AFTRA reached an agreement with the nets giving it jurisdiction over tape. SAG then charged AFTRA had made that deal secret and undercut the contract; its board officially went on record against a merger.
In 1999, AFTRA members endorsed a merger, but SAG members voted it down. Relations between the unions soured in 2000 after AFTRA leaders reneged on oral promises during the six-month commercials strike that their union would split the tab; AFTRA eventually paid 11% of the $2.4 million cost.
Tensions were strained by the cost-cutting recommendation in 2001’s Towers Perrin report that SAG pull the plug on up to 20 regional branch offices, many of them SAG/AFTRA outlets in which AFTRA administered the SAG contract. SAG and AFTRA have kept nearly all of the branch offices open, with both boards having voted this summer to continue pursuing merger.
Date in print: Tue., Sep. 16, 2003, Los Angeles