A Letter from Frances Fisher to Claude Brodesser of Variety Magazine

From: Frances Fisher

Sent: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 10:52 PM
To: Claude Brodesser cbrodesser@reedbusiness.com
Cc: Peter Bart pbart@reedbusiness.com

Subject: Dear Mr. Brodesser

May 25, 2004
Dear Mr. Brodesser,

Well, since you chose to put my name in your column without actually talking to me, I suppose talking to you now is moot. But I feel that I must educate you, so that you can responsibly do your job as a journalist.

“But dissidents like former SAG treasurer Kent McCord, Frances Fisher and David Jolliffe are pulling out all the stops in an online campaign, urging members to vote against it.”

MembershipFirst has 15 representatives on the National Board, a minority, and 31 representatives on the Hollywood Board of Directors, which is the Majority.

Although you may see us as dissidents, because we disagree with the current leadership and propaganda spin of S.A.G., we are the elected Majority Voice in Hollywood and therefore deserve to communicate with the membership.

Why are you singling out three members of MembershipFirst, whom you have not even spoken to regarding this matter?

MembershipFirst sent out ONE email, and one only, to our email list. If the MembershipFirst email has been published in other venues, so be it.

The Guild has sent out a “pro” statement only, with the ballot, TWO emails from the Guild saying vote “yes”, ONE email from the “pro” party, ONE Hollywood Newsletter saying to vote “yes”, Pro propaganda in press releases and on the S.A.G. web site, and recently high profile members have been recruited to make phone calls to get out the last minute vote…and now your article. Tell me, Mr. Brodesser, who is “pulling out all the stops”?

Believe me, when we are forced to “pull out all the stops”, as we did during the consolidation push, to keep the current leadership from giving away our Union with no way to get it back, you will know it.

“Cromwell railed against the whispering campaign, calling it “a screed that’s mendacious, uninformed and self-serving” and saying that the “issue has been politicized by a few people whose goals are antithetical to the union’s.”

Since when is sending out an email to the membership tantamount to a “whispering campaign”? Communicating with our constituents is what we were elected to do, Mr. Brodesser. We do not walk in lockstep; I would hope that just as another point of view is welcomed in our American society, the same can be tolerated within any Union.

It is interesting to me that a group called Restore Respect continues to add to the list of names they call MembershipFirst. Did you know that we are also called “craven”, “malcontents”, “misanthropes”, and “union-busters”? Thank you for publishing that we are also “uninformed” and “self-serving” and “mendacious”.

Let me inform you, Mr. Brodesser, of some facts that need to be known by you, and your readers. I am limiting my response to some of the false Strike Fund statements you included in your article. There are others in MembershipFirst who can speak with authority about the underhanded and gravely misleading statements regarding minority and background performers.

If you are covering Union business, then by God, you must learn the lexicon.

You, and the current leadership of the Screen Actors Guild do your readers and the S.A.G. membership a great disservice by implying that a Strike Fund in relationship to the Screen Actors Guild, is in any way a benevolence fund.

A Strike fund in relation to the Screen Actors Guild is: A means for the Union to organize, to rent meeting halls, print placards, print flyers, travel and house Union officials around organizing events, outreach for members. Traditionally, it appeared as a line item in the Guild’s Annual Budget with exactly this meaning. Several years ago the line item was removed when it was decided by the National Board that, henceforth, the entire monetary reserve of Screen Actors Guild would be considered to be the Strike Fund.

Underhandedly, what is being portrayed by the leadership is that this strike fund would be a benevolence fund for the members. This is wrong and misleading.

It is from the S.A.G. FOUNDATION that members would seek and find emergency financial assistance during a strike, a wholly separate entity, currently funded at $6 million dollars. And by the way, it is this institution that took donations from our membership during the 2000 commercial strike, and it was through this organization, the S.A.G. FOUNDATION, that members in need were granted financial assistance.

Did you know that? Or do you just report what you are told, instead of digging a little deeper to find out the truth?

“Lacking a strike fund last March, SAG extended its contract with producers for only the third time in its history.”

You have just been sold the first step in the way CEO Bob Pisano and the current administration will spin the defeat of the dues increase, thereby trying to justify a weak bargaining position in the upcoming TV-Theatrical negotiations.

But are we really weak?

If the last strike cost $2 million dollars for 6 months, and S.A.G. has almost $3 million in the general fund, and the S.A.G. Foundation has $6 million in the emergency financial assistance fund, and as of January 2004, the LM2 report stated that S.A.G. has a $12.2 operating surplus during the last fiscal year, (this is AFTER all the bills were paid, and all the raises were handed out, including Mr. Pisano’s), how can it be said that S.A.G. doesn’t have enough money to successfully prosecute a negotiation? Unless you are purposely trying to portray the Screen Actors Guild as weak and emasculated.

The whole mention of the strike fund is a calculated distraction once again:

“the nettlesome issue of residual payments was left off the bargaining table, because SAG lacked a strike fund. Instead, SAG and AFTRA sought to focus solely on securing modest wage and pension and health increases and avoiding a work slowdown.”

The strike fund ploy was initiated in the TV-Theatrical pre-negotiations. They are now trying to create a history that is not true. It is a calculated distraction that is nothing more than a straw man.

“We are absolutely living on the drug of deficit spending,” said SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert.”

If you re-read the large paragraph above, you will see that the LM2 contradicts what Gilbert is saying. And by the way, if a person spends too much money, is the answer to give them MORE money? Would you give an alcoholic more drinks to help him get sober? Would you give an addict drugs to ease his pain?

To say that the last Commercials and TV contracts had “modest gains” is another calculated statement; the accurate statement is that the last Commercials contract had the lowest wage gains in its history, and this last TV-Theatrical contract “extension” had the lowest wage gains in recent memory.

It does surprise me that you don’t fully investigate these issues before publishing statement such as those I have italicized above.

I did have a chuckle over your “pulling out all the stops” line; it made me think of dear old Addison DeWitt, while Cromwell’s reference to mendacity brought up fond memories of Big Daddy.

It is unfortunate that such ill-conceived language has no place in matters as serious as the ones before the membership of Screen Actors Guild.

Frances Fisher
National Board, Screen Actors Guild

P.S. CEO Bob Pisano told the TV/Theatrical negotiating committee that DVD’s were “off the table”. You might wish to do your own investigation into Mr. Pisano’s role in the DVD rental company, NetFlix.

I have a packet of information that you might be interested in reading.

Cc: Peter Bart

*formatting is SW’s!