The following is a story that is going ALL OVER THE WORLD by means of Associated Press. As usual, the Ol’d Dog has interjected a few pertinent comments.
Actors union could split
Turmoil may further divide feuding SAG
Gary Gentile: Associated Press
Dec. 5, 2005 12:00 AM
LOS ANGELES – The largest union representing actors has promised a new, tougher stance in contract talks with powerful media conglomerates. However, the Screen Actors Guild may self-destruct before it ever gets the chance.
Right! A few employer compliant whiners start sending out press releases and once again SAG is ready to self-destruct!
The labor union’s long-running infighting has escalated into what could become a mutiny since the election in September of SAG President Alan Rosenberg.
Rosenberg and his allies gained a majority on the national board by pledging to squeeze more money from the studios from the sale of DVDs and new technologies, including downloading of films and TV shows. He also pledged to unite SAG’s feuding factions.
Instead, Rosenberg, 55, divided the union even more by firing Greg Hessinger, the popular SAG national executive director. He had been hired by the previous leadership, which Rosenberg accused of surrendering too easily on key economic issues.
Although President Rosenberg was at the forefront, he did not fire Hessinger! The SAG board did. It has the final authority in such matters! As to Greg Hessinger being popular. Ah, the Ol’ Dog must have missed that poll! Actually, there was a poll of sorts. Ah, it was called the SAG election. And the guy and party publicly identified as not being all that fond of NED Hessinger won.
Many union members see the firing as an arrogant display of power that finally could split the union into two groups: One that represents film and TV actors, primarily based in Hollywood, and another mostly comprising members in New York and Chicago who do commercials and voiceovers.
And many more members see the firing as the first move in regaining the control of our union from senior staff and returning it to the members elected leadership! .Actually SAG Hollywood represents all facets of the acting community! Mr. Christie and his group of disgruntled dissidents however are made up of primarily voiceover and commercial actors.
Paul Christie, president of SAG’s New York branch, said that talk of a split has heated up since the election of Rosenberg, who was a regular on the TV series Chicago Hope and is married to CSI star Marg Helgenberger.
Mr. Christie and his trouble making pals better be careful of what they wish for or they may get it. Many in Hollywood have had it with their lies, badmouthing of Hollywood actors and general selfish “Us First” mentality. If members in New York and the branches continue to listen and adhere to their divisive rhetoric, we could end up with SAG West and SAG East. A situation that could certainly lighten the financial burden of Hollywood’s membership, which generates 65 percent of SAG’s revenue. Let NY and the branches shovel out the millions of dollars that will be necessary to sustain their very expensive New York digs and all those AFTRA branch offices gobbling up SAG money!
“I think he’s capable of better things,” Christie said.
This from a guy who characterized our new president as unethical and immoral!
With 120,000 members, SAG always has been a fragmented labor union, representing both multimillionaire superstars and rank-and-file membership with an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent.
Although SAG has always represented superstars and rank-and-file members it has never been fragmented in its over 70 year history of solidarity! This is but another myth that our employers and their compliant followers would like to perpetuate.
Membership in SAG is all but required to work in films, television and commercials. Many SAG members also belong to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which has jurisdiction over the prime-time schedule of major networks, among other areas!
Yikes! I don’t watch much primetime! Has primetime gone ALL REALITY! Not! Although, if the current leadership in AFTRA had their way they would have jurisdiction over primetime–no matter how much money their lame contracts would screw actors out of money.
Rosenberg’s agenda mirrors that of the new president of the Writers Guild of America, West. Patric Verrone also ran on a promise to get tougher with studios and fired his executive director soon after taking office.
Both men justified the firings by saying they needed staff who would push their agendas of increasing membership, fighting the rise of reality TV shows and gaining more economic concessions from studios.
There were other reasons for Hessinger’s firing: His defiance of the SAG President and leadership by ignoring their admonition to stop hiring his pals to multi-year multi-dollar contracts without their approval. His response! “If you don’t like it fire me!” They did! The press continues to perpetuate the myth that this was the only reason for the firing. Mr. Rosenberg needs to clarify this, or he will continue to take a beating in the press and on websites that the only reason for the firing was to push his agenda.
Rosenberg’s action deepened the geographic rift that existed in the union.
Actually, it isn’t President Rosenberg’s action that is deepening the geographic rift in our union but rather the divisive USAN leadership with their lies and distortions of facts that deepens it.
Actors outside Hollywood are not as reliant on residuals from DVDs and other technology and are less inclined to endure a lengthy, costly strike over the issue.
And this is the primary reason that no percentage increases were gained in DVDs. The Restore Respect minority in Hollywood was able to use those outside of Hollywood to kill any chance of a fair increase in DVD revenue!
Those actors also fear Los Angeles-based members, who control the guild because of their numbers, will abuse their power and push through an agenda that ignores the needs of actors in other regions.
And these are exactly the fears that the USAN dissidents are playing on to accomplish their “go-along to get-along agenda.”
Rosenberg acknowledges that bridging differences is his most pressing challenge.
Unfortunately, the USAN leadership, by every action they have taken since Mr. Rosenberg’s election, have proven they have no interest in bridging differences, but rather burning them in a campaign designed to damage his credibility and that of the Membership First leadership. It’s the Old Dog’s humble opinion that President Rosenberg and the Membership First leadership needs to fight fire with fire. He needs to counter all the lies that are being circulated in the press and on newly formed websites. The new leadership has the bully pulpit! If they don’t use it! They will lose it!
“You have people living in all different areas of the country who feel like they’re muzzled and don’t have a voice or are afraid they’re going to be muzzled,” he said.
Once again, as someone who gets all the news reports concerning SAG, it seems to me to be the other way around, that he and our new leadership has been muzzled! Thanks to all the USAN propaganda being circulated by a willing press, they are being portrayed as they bad guys who threaten the industry. Unfortunately, Mr. Rosenberg seems to believe that if all of the rhetoric and lies are ignored they will just go away. Big mistake! political history has proven that!
He has visited the New York and Miami, Fla., branches in recent weeks and plans to visit other locals in the hope of creating a more unified front for contract talks.
“It doesn’t serve us well at all for our employers to know that our union is basically split down the middle,” Rosenberg said. “That gives them a lot of leverage.”
Giving away leverage has been the Restore Respect/USAN agenda for the last four years. If SAG is compromised then it is in no position to standup to our employers. If we don’t stand up to our employers there is no chance of a strike! (Of course, there’s no chance of getting good contracts either) And thus the “go-along-to-get-alongs” have no interruption in their comfortable lifestyle. These members seem to have no connection to the past, or concern for the future of our guild. They are all about settling for whatever employers deign to give them now! Forget the past and screw the future.
Uniting the union will be critical for Rosenberg, who faces his first big test next year when SAG’s contract with advertising agencies expires. The guild’s pact with studios expires two years later.
“If we don’t strengthen the core of our union, we’re going to be fighting a losing battle,” said Kathy Christopherson, an actress and producer.
Core? I’m not exactly sure what Kathy means. Actually, when I hear from an actor/producer, the Ol’ Dog is a tad suspicious of which part of them is speaking the actor or the producer. But giving Ms. Christopherson the benefit of the doubt, lets assume by core she means the spirit of “we’re all in this together, and collectively we can all sustain the greatest actors guild in the world for the benefit of both present and future members alike.” That I can get behind!
In the latest sign of dissension, three SAG members last week asked the U.S. Department of Labor to void Rosenberg’s election, alleging illegal campaign tactics by Rosenberg’s Membership First party.
I’ve read a copy the Christie, Freed, and Henry Bonehead Challenge to the labor board and will be posting it shortly!
Media companies have created contingency plans that include stockpiling scripts and productions in anticipation of a strike. That move could lead to a “de facto” strike.
This flouting of the threat of a “de facto” strike always amuses me. So they stockpile work now that they perhaps planned on doing! Great! A bird in the hand and all that! As long as they are spending the same amount of money! Hell, the Ol’ Dog would just as soon have it now. The best counter to “de facto” is “savings account.”
Rosenberg’s election underscored dissatisfaction with last year’s contract talks, which won higher wages but failed to budge the studios on paying a bigger share of the lucrative DVD market.
Those touted “higher wages” amounted to the worst increase in minimums in SAG history!
“I think we just walked away too soon and too easily without fighting,” Rosenberg said. “We sent a message of weakness.”
A message that Mr. Christie and his USAN/Restore Respect pals have been sending for the last four years.
Now, studios are experimenting with new sources of revenue, offering TV shows on demand over the Web, without explaining how they intend to pay actors and writers.
Rosenberg’s views, especially on the challenges of new technology, aren’t that different from those of Christie or others in the union. But guild members differ over whether they should strike to win concessions.
“It’s not going to be the toughest guy at the table, it’s going to be the smartest guy at the table,” Christie said.
Excuse me, Mr. Christie, but the smartest guys don’t go to the bargaining table without their most potent weapon– the threat of a strike. In any collective bargaining negotiations if you don’t go in with the appearance of toughness, you ain’t smart. And for the last four years, Mr. Christie and his gang have proved that they ain’t smart.
Fighting over DVD revenue may be a waste of time, Christie said, as the industry looks at new ways to distribute content, including sending movies and TV shows to cell phones, iPods and other devices.
“We’re having a fist fight over something that’s going to be a memory in a very short period of time,” he said. “What are the next three of four things beyond DVD? That’s what I want to deal with.”
Yeah, right! More rhetoric justifying caving into producers. Christie and his go-along-to-get-along” will always adjourn gains now to avoid conflict.” With them it’s the “Annie” syndrome. “Tomorrow, tomorrow!” Come to think of it. Do any of them have pupils?
Christie pledged to work with Rosenberg and expressed his support during a testy meeting between Rosenberg and members of the New York branch.
In the meantime, he badmouths him in the press and files a bogus election challenge to get him ousted as SAG president.
Rosenberg’s actions in the next year will have a major impact on the future of the guild.
“The more difficult choice is to be his own man and do what he can to finally put a stop to this,” Christie said. “If he doesn’t do that, you run the risk of possibly splitting the organization irreparably.”
A certain irony here, folks. Paul Christie inferring that President Rosenberg isn’t his own man. Especially, since for the last four years he has been Pisano’s man. And of course Pisano was, is, and will always be the studio’s man. And the studio’s love compliant members like Christie and his USAN counterparts.
A.L. miller SW Editor & Chief
Lew Wasserman “A compliant union is a good union.