The Ol’ SAG Watchdog
*Headline photo selected by Watchdog
The Ol’ SAG Watchdog
*Headline photo selected by Watchdog
August 1, 2017 | 12:29PM PT
SAG-AFTRA’s election has gone into the hot zone with adversaries denouncing each other in a bid to sway the 144,000 performer members.
The key race is for the presidency, with incumbent Gabrielle Carteris heading the Unite for Strength slate and facing a challenge from Esai Morales as head of the Membership First faction along with independents Pete Antico, Robert Martin Jr., and Marilyn Monrovia.
Carteris is pushing for members to ratify the union’s new three-year tentative deal with production companies covering film and primetime TV work. Morales and Antico are campaigning against ratification, saying the contract falls particularly short in travel provisions, basic cable, and residuals
Ballots on ratification are due on Aug. 7 while the elections ballots are due Aug. 24.
“Our current leadership tells you that everything is great,” the Membership First site reads. “You know better. So do we. We tell you the truth.”
Morales has told Variety that Carteris is using her post as president inappropriately — particularly in her July 15 decision at the national board meeting when she ruled a motion out of order to include a minority report as part of the ratification ballot materials. SAG-AFTRA rules require a minority report when the board vote on a contract is 25% against — 2% above the 23% “No” vote on the deal on July 15.
“I think that Gabrielle should have recused herself rather than ruling the motion out of order, given that she’s running for president at the same time,” Morales said. “I find it disconcerting. If the new contract is so great, then why not have the full disclosure to members?”
Carteris responded Tuesday with a salvo against Membership First in what she called an “Urgent” message.
“Let me get straight to the point,” she said. “While SAG-AFTRA has achieved many crucial gains since merger, our prosperity and stability are at risk in the current election. Thankfully, you have the power to keep our union on a prosperous path… but only if you exercise your right to vote. MEMBERSHIP FIRST… STILL WRONG.”
“SAG-AFTRA members demanded merger and have overwhelmingly approved every contract we’ve negotiated,” she said. “Incredibly, Membership First is still trying to convince members that their wrong-headed, divisive approach is the way to go. Use your vote today to tell Membership First they are still wrong.”
The two sides have been battling for nearly a decade, dating back to 2008 when self-styled progressives of Membership First lost control of the SAG board. Unite for Strength, led by Ken Howard, advocated a pragmatic non-confrontational approach and pushed hard for merger with AFTRA. Membership First filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to prevent voting on the 2012 merger, alleging that its impact on the pension and health plans had not been fully assessed.
Carteris brought up those events in her message. “MF bitterly opposed merger and tried to keep members from even voting on it!” she said. “UFS has negotiated contracts that have put more than one billion additional dollars in members’ pockets. MF failed disastrously in the last TV/Theatrical negotiation they attempted, costing members more than $100 million.
The union election also covers election of many of the members of the 80-seat national board. Unite for Strength and its allies control the board while Membership First has about a dozen seats.
SAG-AFTRA has about 160,000 members. Ballots went out only to members who were paid up on their dues. The film-TV deal, reached on July 4, covers more than $1 billion in annual earnings by members.
EXCLUSIVE: Two of Hollywood’s biggest and oldest credit unions are becoming one, the latest in a series of mergers that have consolidated many of the industry’s member-owned, nonprofit financial cooperatives. The latest tie-up will fold the Musicians’ Interguild Credit Union, with its $73 million in assets, into the much larger SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union, which has $236 million in assets.
The merger has already received approval from state and federal regulators, and has been approved by the boards of the SAFCU and the MICU. It must now be approved by the MICU’s 6,300 members. Ballots will be counted June 26.
The merged credit union will keep the name SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union, and Roger Runyon, SAFCU’s CEO, will be its chief executive officer.
“For some time, your board has contemplated how to better serve the needs of our membership and stay relevant to them,” said Stephan Zupkas, chairman of the MICU board of directors, in a recent communique with MICU members. “After much analysis, it became clear that the best way to accomplish that is to merge with a larger, well-run credit union that offers many of the products and services that our members expect. The dilemma for your board was to find a credit union with the same philosophies and focus as MICU. After careful review of a number of options, we found that SAFCU most closely fit what we were looking for in a partner. SAFCU is a credit union that is focused on entertainers’ unions with a field of membership that most closely resembles ours and a strong management team.”
Said Zupkas to Deadline: “We took a long hard look at this. The board’s responsibility is to serve our members the best we can, and we determined that more products and more branches to serve them would create a stronger institution. And the SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union has the same goal as we do — to serve the performer.”
Throughout the process, he wrote, “We met with the management of SAFCU and conducted the due diligence to ensure that the successor credit union will continue to be relevant to our members. The merged credit union will be a larger, more viable institution that will be able to continue to serve the unique needs of our combined membership.”
“This is a very positive thing,” SAFCU board chair Kerri Tombazian told Deadline. “This is an opportunity to expand and improve services to the Musicians Interguild Credit Union members, partly because the SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union has services and products that they don’t have. We have very similar fields of membership and many Musicians Union members are also SAG-AFTRA members. And their field of membership includes some other entertainment union members. So it’s a very well-matched field of membership. Obviously, in these financial times, it’s just a great thing to be able to join forces and have a stronger unified body.”
The history of Hollywood credit unions, which offer the same services as banks and lending institutions, is one of mergers. Founded in 1954 to serve members of the American Federation of Musicians Local 47, the Musicians’ Union Credit Union merged in 2006 with the Interguild Federal Credit Union, which served members of the WGA West, the DGA, the Producers Guild of America and other industry unions.
SAFCU, meanwhile, started out in 1962 as the AFTRA Federal Credit Union, and changed its name in 1971 to the Southern California AFTRA-SAG Federal Credit Union, to reflect eligibility of members of the Screen Actors Guild. It went national in 1976, and changed its name to the AFTRA-SAG Federal Credit Union. In 2012, following the merger of SAG and AFTRA, it changed its name again.
Once SAFCU and MICU are merged, its $309 million in assets will still be dwarfed by those of Hollywood’s biggest credit union, the First Entertainment Credit Union, which opened in 1967 in a small office on the Warner Bros lot with only $40 in assets. First known as the Warner Seven Federal Credit Union, it changed its name to Warner Bros Employees Federal Credit Union in 1970, and following a merger with the Columbia Studios Employees Credit Union in 1973 became the Columbia/Warner Bros. Employees Federal Credit Union.
It became the First Entertainment Federal Credit Union in 1984, and the next year, merged with the Golden West Broadcasters Federal Credit Union. In 1990, following a merger with Screenland/MGM Employees Credit Union, its assets nearly doubled in size — from $40 million to $73 million. It merged in 1993 with A&M Records Employees Federal Credit Union; merged again in 1998 with Six Flags Employees Federal Credit Union; merged again in 1999 with the Las Vegas Credit Union – shortening its name to First Entertainment Credit Union – and in 2003 merged yet again with the Paramount Studios Employees Credit Union. It now manages $1.4 billion in assets and serves more than 75,000 members.
“Nationwide, one credit union goes out of business every day through a merger with another credit union,” said John Fairbanks, a spokesman for the National Credit Union Administration, which regulates the nation’s credit union system. “Usually it’s because their members want services they can’t provide, and economies of scale. Mergers are a trend that’s been going on for several decades. It’s been pretty consistent.”
Credit unions, in contrast to commercial banks and lending institutions, are service organizations that exist solely for the benefit of their members and to serve their financial needs, without profit. Charted by Congress, they are people who share a common bond who save their money and make loans to each other at low interest rates from their accumulated funds. They’ve been around for more than a century.
Once merged, the new SAFCU will not only serve the needs of actors and musicians, but numerous other industry professionals as well. Unions and organizations that offer membership under pre-merger SAFCU include:
SAG Pension Plan
SAG-AFTRA Health Plan
AFTRA Retirement Fund
Actors Fund, Western Region
American Guild of Variety Artists,
Casting Society of America
Hollander Talent Group
Set Decorators Society of America
Talent Managers Association
Joining them from MICU once the merger is completed will be anyone who’s a member or an employee of:
The Directors Guild of America
The WGA West
The Producers Guild of America
American Federation of Musicians Local 7
American Federation of Musicians Local 47
American Federation of Musicians Local 308
American Federation of Musicians Local 325
American Federation of Musicians Local 353
American Federation of Musicians Local 655
Musicians’ Credit Union and the Department of Business Oversight of the State of
Musicians’ Assistance Program
Musicians’ Club of Los Angeles
Orange County Musicians’ Club
IATSE Prop Local 44
IATSE Grips Local 80
IATSE Cinematographers Guild Local 600
IATSE Costumers Local 705
IATSE Studio Electrical Lighting Technicians Local 728
IATSE Set Painters and Sign Writers Local 729
IATSE Art Directors Guild Local 800
IATSE Animation Guild Local 839
IATSE Treasurers & Ticket Sellers Local 857
IATSE Script Supervisors Local 871
IATSE Costume Designers Guild Local 892
Employees of the IATSE’s West Coast office
Employees of Technique System Solutions
Employees of Western Costume Co.
Entertainment Publicists Professional Society
So Cal IBEW-NECA Trust Fund
The Valley Master Chorale
Welsh Choir of Southern California
Association of Theatrical Press Agents & Managers
Spouses of deceased members, providing they have not remarried
A day after a group of nine actors, including former SAG president Ed Asner, sent SAG-AFTRA a long letter alleging “breach of fiduciary duties” and threatening litigation, the union Saturday slammed the missive as “a fantasy [of] discredited claims [by] serial litigants.”
The letter, several of whose signatories were plaintiffs in one or more of fiveprevious unsuccessful lawsuits over the last 15 years against their own union, could complicate SAG-AFTRA’s pending TV/theatrical negotiations with the major studios and is sure to be a topic of discussion at the organization’s national board meeting Saturday and Sunday.
“This group of people should be deeply ashamed,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “After years of failed attempts to derail the success of this union through deceitful litigation, they are putting our members at risk on the eve of our most important contract negotiations. Their repeated pursuit of frivolous politics merits utter contempt.”
Among the ten-page letter’s most dramatic passages is a pointed demand that “the executive leadership of SAG-AFTRA stop treating the Union’s Treasury as well as [various funds] as personal bank accounts which can be accessed with impunity.”
The document offers no details or evidence to support that claim. It adds that “funds … have been deliberately stockpiled to satisfy the personal pecuniary interests of [SAG-AFTRA’s] hired leadership,” but again supplies no details or evidence.
Other proffered issues include complaints about residuals and foreign royalties trust funds, alleged conflict of interest and such matters as reimbursement of automobile mileage expenses for union travel, frequent flyer mile usage, cell phone plans, ownership of union buildings, the conduct of an independent music royalties organization (SoundExchange), the union’s recent deal with startup Exactuals for residuals direct deposit, reimbursement of bar association dues for the union’s general counsel, attendance at conferences by union executives, the hiring of a top expert on royalties and the fact that union executive director David White is no longer on active status as a member of the California bar (which is only required for practicing lawyers). Details are generally sparse.
“This is 10 pages of fantasy that attempts to position customary business activity as questionable,” said union COO and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland in a statement to THR. “ It is a shame that we have to use members’ dues monies to defend against these discredited claims, but there should be no doubt we will vigorously defend the union and our membership against the assertions of these serial litigants.”
The correspondence — which demands a response within 45 days or a lawsuit “will in fact be filed” — is on the letterhead of the self-styled United Screen Artists Committee and follows a history of SAG and SAG-AFTRA members unsuccessfully suing their own union, with portions of the letter attempting to relitigate issues from a failed 2013 lawsuit about foreign royalties that was filed by Asner and some of the letter’s other signatories under the same USAC moniker. It comes at a sensitive moment, with SAG-AFTRA poised to begin contract negotiations with the AMPTP studio alliance against the backdrop of a possible writers strike, and as the union enters its biennial campaign season, with the president, officers and board members up for election.
Referencing the fact that the letter was supplied Friday to Variety — apparently even before the union’s receipt of the document — Carteris told THR that “the timing of this action and its leak to a trade publication leave no doubt of their intent.”
“It’s time to stop the politics,” Carteris added, but that seems unlikely. SAG-AFTRA’s election process officially kicks off in June, but positioning has already begun, and the union’s politics are extremely factional, as were SAG’s before it. Carteris is a leader of the Unite for Strength faction, which has controlled SAG and subsequently SAG-AFTRA since 2009. Most of the letter’s authors, as well as most of the litigants in prior lawsuits, are or were part of the Membership First faction, which controlled SAG from 2005 before being ousted by UFS in a move to restart stalled 2008 contract talks and move towards merger with AFTRA.
That power shift triggered a 2009 lawsuit against SAG by the union’s own president at the time, Alan Rosenberg. (Asner’s time as president dates to an earlier era, 1981-85.) The lawsuit collapsed, contract talks resumed, and three years later the two performers’ unions became one in a merger that Asner and several of the current letter’s other signatories attempted to block in an unavailing 2012 suit.
Some, perhaps many, MF partisans continue to oppose and seemingly even hope to undo the merger, and pro- and anti-merger arguments dominated the merged union’s 2013 and 2015 elections. This summer is likely to feature more of the same, despite the half-decade that’s elapsed since that joinder. Carteris is expected to run for reelection, and MF has not yet announced a candidate. Former MF member Pete Antico — who was also among the plaintiffs in the 2012 anti-merger lawsuit — jumped into the race with an early announcement last month, which could complicate MF’s likely attempt to challenge Carteris in the contest. (Antico is not a signatory to the current letter.)
Meanwhile, the union’s TV/theatrical contracts with the major studios expire June 30, and contract talks are expected to begin in about a month. The Writers Guild may be on strike at that point: its contract expires May 1 and, with several hundred million dollars apparently separating the WGA and AMPTP positions, the guild has said it will walk as soon as its contract expires if a new deal hasn’t been reached by that time. Talks resume Tuesday, less than a week before expiration.
In addition to Asner, the signatories of the letter to SAG-AFTRA are Alan Ruck, Clancy Brown, Eric Hughes Aka Jon Whiteley, Steven Barr, Terrence Beasor, Tom Bower, Alex McArthur and Dennis Hayden. Their counsel is identified as Helena Sunny Wise, who was also plaintiffs’ counsel in the 2013 foreign royalties lawsuit against SAG-AFTRA.
Just so you union members “get it.” Gabrielle horns in to shamefully admonish members for questioning her and her pals currency leaderships handling of the memberships money!
The Ol’ SAG Watchdog
*Photo selected by Watchdog
SAG-AFTRA has posted a new video on its website celebrating the fifth anniversary of the merger of SAG and AFTRA. “A lot has happened in the last five years,” notes the video , but it fails to make any mention of a key event in the merged union’s history: that it’s been on strike against select video game companies for the past six months. It’s quite an oversight, because on Saturday, it will become the longest strike in the history of the Screen Actors Guild, going back to 1935.
The video mentions numerous other important milestones, including the announcement of the merger vote in March 2012, the new union receiving an AFL-CIO charter five months later, the May 2013 ratification of a commercials contract that included $238 million in wage increases and other payments, the union’s inaugural national convention in September 2013, the August 2014 ratification of a new three-year film and TV contract that included $200 million in wage gains, the March 2016 death of SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard and the June 2016 announcement of the merger of the SAG and AFTRA health plans.
But the video’s exclusion of the video game strike, now in its 183rd day, is even more noticeable because the June 2016 opening of a member Contact Center and the February launch of a member mobile app were deemed worthy of inclusion.
The strike, which began on October 21, shows no sign of ending soon, and on Saturday it will supplant the 183-day commercials strike of 2000 as the longest in SAG history. video game strike