SAG Presidential Candidates Conrad, Fairchild and Rosenberg speak out! And the Ol’ Dog speaks up.
The following article is from Backstage West! The Ol’ Dog’s comments are highlighted!
By Lauren Horwitch
Actors Guild presidential hopeful Alan Rosenberg joined fellow MembershipFirst members at a meeting with actors’ group the Wild Bunch of Hollywood this weekend in Sherman Oaks. The Wild Bunch–a networking group of character actors specializing in portraying authentic “outlaws” such as bikers, bouncers, and criminals–invited Rosenberg and MembershipFirst to the home of Wild Bunch member Ed Pelletteri to learn more about Rosenberg’s platform and share their concerns about the union. Rosenberg listened quietly for most of the meeting and said he was pleased with the high level of participation. “A leader turns to his membership,” he said. “You are all shareholders in this union.”
Several Hollywood candidates for SAG’s national board of directors attended the informal meeting, including Gretchen Koerner, Jenny Worman, Anthony De Santi, Joe d’Angerio, Angela Watson, and Russell McConnell. James St. James, who is running on both the MembershipFirst and Wild Bunch slates, and independent candidate Roy Eugene Boggs also participated. Marlene Sosebee, Wild Bunch candidate for national board, moderated the spirited discussion.
The actors spoke passionately about myriad controversial issues facing SAG during the two-hour Q&A, including SAG executives’ salaries, the need for a free flow of information between SAG officers and members, dues increases, the failed merge with AFTRA, and unregulated calling services. However, background performers’ eligibility for SAG membership was the character actors’ most-debated grievance. Wild Bunch members, many of whom work as background performers, said the current requirements for SAG cards allow too many inexperienced actors easy entrance into the union. Currently, background actors seeking SAG cards must provide proofby way of vouchers–of having worked at least three days for a company signed to a SAG agreement. Principal performers must provide proof of one-time employment, such as a videotape, signed contract, or pay stub.
SAG’s website includes this note about eliminating the three-voucher system: “SAG is currently revising the entrance for background performers by developing a point system in which union and nonunion jobs, along with educational seminars and sanctioned events, count toward eligibility.”
Now there’s a way to teach would-be members to be loyal SAG members, GIVE THEM CREDIT FOR DOING NON-UNION JOBS!
The Wild Bunch said many commercial production companies that don’t comply with the union are loath to hire background performers with ties to SAG. One member said he hasn’t worked since landing on a blacklist of background performers who have contacted SAG regarding poor working conditions. Another reported being kicked off a set for informing other background performers about SAG policies.
Wild Bunch national board nominee Steve Cutler said background performers had greater protection under the Screen Extras Guild, which merged with SAG in 1992 after a decade-long struggle to remain independent. “This category [of actors] was devastated when SEG dissolved,” he said. “Over 100,000 three-vouchers were given to street people last year. That’s 100,000 jobs that could have gone to members.”
Campaign for Unity’s presidential candidate Morgan Fairchild, who attended a meeting at actor Kathryn Joosten’s home Sunday, told Back Stage West in a phone interview that she worked successfully with a group of background performers and other SAG members to amend the three-voucher system in 2003. “Unfortunately, MembershipFirst voted down the funding that would’ve made the reform possible to implement,” she said. “The great disappointment was that we got it in place, and then the funding was not made available.”
Membership First Board Members voted down funding for a plan that encourages non-union work as a way to gain entrance into our union. Presidential Candidate Morgan Fairchild finds this acceptable! But then what would you expect from a candidate that kicks off a campaign hosted at the home of acknowledged union hater.
Independent presidential candidate Robert Conrad also spoke with BSW by phone about the three-voucher system. “I don’t believe in exclusivity,” he said. “I believe everybody has a right to work, and I don’t believe in closing unions and/or guilds. It just seems unfair.”
Not exactly a stance that is going to get Mr. Conrad a lot of votes considering the current state of things, but you’ve got to admire him for speaking from his heart and being honest and straightforward.
Rosenberg had strong words for SAG’s National Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Greg Hessinger, who was appointed by the national board on Mar. 6 and began work May 2. “We have to take the power away from the hired help,” Rosenberg said. “[If I were elected], Greg Hessinger and I would certainly have a long talk.” When asked which SAG executives Rosenberg would fire, he replied, “Hessinger may be at the top of my list.”
And you’ve got to admire Alan Rosenberg for not pulling any punches when it comes to answering questions. ” Hired Help” in this instance refers to a handful of Senior Staff members who seem to think SAG is there own personal domain to do with as they like. They are the ones that formulated the Hasbro waiver. They are the ones that tell members who are being screwed by agents to get a lawyer. They are the ones that have interjected us into the Pisano “Conflict of Interest” suit, wasting hundreds of thousands of our dues dollars, without bothering to consult the SAG Board. And they are the ones, along with Melissa and her Restore Respect group, that admittedly blew over 2.3 million of our dues money trying to “sell” us on their failed Consolidation scheme.
Unfortunately, SAG’s Senior Staff has taken over the decision making from a weak “go-along to get-along” President and her collected group of Cave-ins– and it’s gonna take someone like Alan Rosenberg to assume leadership, put those senior staffers on notice, and clean up the mess that they have created. The first rule should be that any staff person who knowingly lies to the membership– is out of there. This union needs to adhere to its constitution, and that most likely is not going to happen if certain Senior-staff members continue, unchallenged, with their smug “we know best attitude.”
As to firing NED Hessinger, hopefully that can be avoided, but if he continues to misinform the membership–as he did according to SAG’s bi-partisan Interactive Negotiating Committee, he will need to go. Do we really want a National Executive Director who either is ill prepared to inform our board members, or worse, purposely, misinforms them, when they need his support? There have been accusations from “Campaign For Unity” supporters that Mr. Rosenberg does not have the power to fire Mr. Hessinger. Yes, constitutionally that power rightfully lies with the National Board. But does anyone really believe that Melissa, with here control over the National Board, couldn’t have gotten rid of Pisano if she had wanted to? Duh?
Mr. Rosenberg said he would have a good long talk with Hessinger. On the other hand, I’m sure Ms. Fairchild would have a good long, obedient Listen.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s trying valiantly to do a good job,” Fairchild later said of Hessinger. “He’s only been there for three months. I think we should give him a chance.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Hessinger has already flubbed a golden opportunity to do a good job by his apparent lack of knowledge and leadership in the Interactive contract negotiations! A leader should plan for all possibilities when engaged in a tough collective bargaining agreements! He should be prepared to advise board members with sound legal advise when they ask legal questions. According to our negotiators on the vid-game he wasn’t.
His lack of planning ahead was revealed at the last membership meeting when the Ol’ Dog asked him what his plan of action was to make sure we didn’t turnover jurisdiction to AFTRA if the membership voted down the Interactive contract. Mr. Hessinger responded that if the contract was voted down SAG would have a very challenging situation because the major interactive companies were signed to both unions. He went on to say that he would wait until after the vote, and if the membership voted down the contract THEN he would meet with the National Board and discuss options at that time.”
Now, I don’t know about you but to the Ol’ Dog that don’t sound like much of a plan!
As to whether Mr. Hessinger and other executive SAG officers are overpaid, Fairchild said, “The salaries of our staff over there are pretty much commensurate [with] or less than what other people in those same kinds of positions would be making at other guilds.” She added that MembershipFirst has requested hiring more executives, including a Hollywood executive director.
Now, Ms. Fairchild doesn’t mind that New York has its own executive director while Los Angeles with over 50 percent of the members that generate 65 percent of the revenue has none. But then why should she! Most of her supporters are in NY and the branches. No wonder every board member in NY and the branches have announced their support for her.
As to our Senior Staff being overpaid that’s a question the membership will have to decide. But know this: that since Pisano took office, our rank and file staff which does most of the day-to-day work has been pared down dramatically, while at the same time the money spent on staff has steadily risen. This ain’t because our hard working regular staff members are getting more money! One Senior-staff member has seen her salary rise in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand dollars over the last couple of years. And that ain’t a bad neighborhood to be in. Except that we are footing the bill for her financial zip code with our dues money.
Conrad also commented on the Wild Bunch’s concern about the salaries: “I think you pay a person for their value. If you can put a person in a position where they can be outstanding in their work and it generates income for you, then they’re worth whatever you pay them.”
I agree. But ask yourself, has your income increased commensurate with rising cost of living in the last four years under, Melissa and Morgan’s man, NED Robert Pisano and his Senior Staff? To the contrary, you got some of the worst contracts in SAG history with NO INCREASE IN DVD! An increase, by the way, which could have gone a long way toward solving our ailing Health insurance situation. And then of course there’s that estimated FOUR MILLION bucks wasted on promoting the ATA/NATR giveaway, vindictive lawsuitsand, of course, everyone’s favorite, Pisano and Melissa’s “Less Dues, More Muscle” Consolidation debacle. By, Mr. Conrad’s criteria, most of the senior-staff should have been booted long ago.
Rosenberg reiterated his request for an open debate with his fellow candidates. Fairchild said she has already consented to a debate under certain conditions. “I would like to make sure that the parameters are such that it is fair, and that the members get to hear real views instead of a lot of shouting,” she added.
The Ol’ Dog agrees. So, perhaps, Ms. Fairchild should demand that Tess Harper, Jay Gerber and the rest of her Restore Respect pals NOT ATTEND! You see they attempted to shout the Ol’ Dog down when he was asking a question at an information meeting. Mr. Gerber had apparently taken a secret poll among the attendees because he yelled out, “We don’t want you here!” I guess the Ol’ Dog shouldn’t feel alone. The way Ms. Fairchild is talking about “Her work in trade” proposal these days, she obviously don’t want the majority of our members here.
Sosebee insisted the Wild Bunch is not a faction of, nor does it formally endorse, MembershipFirst. On Monday morning, however, the group’s website included this statement: “We support Alan Rosenberg for SAG president and Connie Stevens for SAG secretary-treasurer.”
Sosebee said the Wild Bunch has attempted to contact Fairchild and Conrad to meet with the group. Both candidates said they have not received invitations to meet with the Wild Bunch but would be open to discussion.
Once again the Ol’ Dog would like to join Alan Rosenberg in calling for a debate of the SAG Presidential Candidates, and let’s stream it on the SAG website so ALL our members can listen inand reach their own conclusions about who should lead our union for the next two year.
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief