Jonathan Handel reports on the SAG-AFTRA panel at the recent “Produced By” conference. It’s a window into the current thinking of the leadership.
The sticky issue of initiation fees remains as volatile as ever.
We earlier noted the defeat of a motion to increase initiation fees outside of New York and Los Angeles at the May 19-20 board meeting. Now, almost two weeks after that board meeting, The Hollywood Reporter states that a second motion — unannounced in the press release following the board meeting — passed to reduce the initiation fee for broadcasters in Los Angeles and New York from $3,000 to $1,708, on an “interim” basis.
Prior to merger, the major-market initiation fee for SAG was $2,277, and the initiation fee for AFTRA was $1,600, meaning that dual cardholders would pay a total of $3,877 to join both unions. The merger agreement set a basic initiation fee of $3,000, which was less than the combined total but a significant jump from the AFTRA-only figure.
The new “interim” rate is $108 higher than the previous AFTRA fee.
This broadcaster reduction applies only to “single unit” employees in New York and Los Angeles — i.e., those who are employed full-time by a single company. The SAG-AFTRA initiation fees outside of New York and Los Angeles remain lower, as they had been prior to merger.
When we publicized the earlier motion there was a chorus of criticism about violating the sanctity of the boardroom. However, as we noted here, there is a need for openness and transparency in SAG-AFTRA activities. The fact that this interim initiation fee reduction was not even mentioned in any public announcement by SAG-AFTRA makes us wonder what else is being concealed from members inappropriately under a cloak of secrecy. We understand the need for confidentiality in matters involving personnel, member discipline, negotiating strategy, and the like. However, none of those considerations appear to be applicable to initiation fees.
Among other actions taken this weekend at the first meeting of the new SAG-AFTRA board, National Executive Director David White’s contract was extended from an expiration in early 2014 to May, 2015 (three years out from now). The board also approved a $95 million budget.
The board set July 2 as the start date of Wages & Working Conditions discussions for the Commercials contract, as to which negotiations are slated to begin this fall. A W&W committee of 17 members and 9 alternates will be appointed by the board at its next meeting.
We’re hearing that the first meeting of the SAG-AFTRA National Board has already resulted in the first rejection of a major plan from the senior leadership of the new union. Details aren’t fully available yet, but it seems that a proposed increase in initiation fees for those outside Los Angeles and New York got shot down hard.
At the time of merger the two largest locals were given initiation fees that went to $3000, because that was a number lower than the combined initiation fees for the two former unions. Smaller locals were left with initiation fees that were the same as before merger.
A proposal to raise the smaller local initiation fees drew fierce resistance, leaving the National Board with a potential problem that isn’t solved yet – figuring out what to do to make up for the loss in projected income, one that was expected to grow because of other proposals that the Board hasn’t heard yet.
More as details become available.
Rumors have been circulating on other sites that the Sheen v. Screen Actors Guild lawsuit, filed in January in an attempt to block the SAG-AFTRA merger, would be dismissed by the plaintiffs. We have commented before that the suit was essentially a dead man walking after the judge’s March 28 ruling that denied injunctive relief and expressed grave doubt as to the merit of any of the plaintiffs’ theories.
Now, according to the Hollywood Reporter, formal dismissal documents have been drawn up and signed and will be filed with the District Court in the next day or two.
Of course this development will infuriate those who, against all reason, continued to believe that this lawsuit would somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat and prove . . . well, we’re not sure exactly what. The articulated reasoning for continuing the dead-duck litigation has been fairly incoherent.
In any case, it is timely that this should occur before this weekend’s plenary meeting of the SAG-AFTRA board.
There was no banner reading “Mission Accomplished” on the back wall on March 30th — exactly one month ago today — when the overwhelming vote in favor of the SAG-AFTRA merger was announced, but there might as well have been. Former AFTRA president John Connolly was quoted as saying, “Message f___ing delivered!” This was an especially triumphant moment for him, as he had presided over the AFTRA side of the previous merger effort that was defeated in 2003.
It was, indeed, an impressive victory, against what often seemed like overwhelming obstacles. However, it would be a significant mistake to look upon merger as somehow magically making everything wonderful. Almost all of the problems that challenged SAG and AFTRA individually before merger remain just as challenging post-merger. New ones are on the horizon.
Merger is, in fact, just the beginning of the journey . . . not the end. Now the hard work starts: The unglamorous work, the difficult work, the work that will test whether the new SAG-AFTRA has what it takes to remain viable and relevant in a media landscape that is in turmoil. It took a certain brand of statesmanship to navigate the merger process. Now we need the kind of statesmanship that will allow SAG-AFTRA to navigate the treacherous waters of being merged. Here are some things we believe are needed:
1. A Clear Vision. While no doubt many who voted for merger (and indeed many who voted against it) will probably stop paying much attention in the wake of the merger announcement, there are many others who remain both interested and concerned about the immediate direction of SAG-AFTRA. It is up to the elected leadership to articulate a vision for this coming transition year, to lay out the union’s priorities, and to set the tone for how the new organization will interface with its membership and its external constituencies. We believe this should come no later than the conclusion of the first plenary board meeting set for mid-May.
2. A New Effort at Unity. SAG-AFTRA must devote conscious attention to making sure all of its pieces are working together in harmony. There is always a tendency to fall into “us versus them” in a merger situation, whether because of geography or organizational heritage. It takes genuine effort to avoid this. Both staff and elected representatives must be alert.
3. A New Effort at Inclusiveness. SAG, in particular, has been hobbled by partisanship and cliquishness over recent years. It is important that the new SAG-AFTRA find ways to build bridges among various factions, and to bring new voices and talent into positions of responsibility. It would be a shame simply to trade one group of insular insiders for a different group of insular insiders. We need more than “the usual suspects” to make the kind of progress that is needed.
4. A New Effort at Openness. Members need to be kept up-to-date about what is happening with core issues. While there are undoubtedly matters that require confidentiality, the presumption should be in favor of sharing with members what is happening at the highest levels — both the challenges and the triumphs.
We do not wish to be misunderstood. We are not predicting doom. We are predicting success, and would like to see everything done that will help contribute to success. There is too much hard work at stake to do anything else.
In one of our first posts here we expressed the view that the anti-merger Sheen v. SAG lawsuit filed in February had run out of gas in light of the District Court’s denial of a preliminary injunction and the successful completion of the SAG-AFTRA merger.
Shortly after that, rumors began flying that the Sheen v. SAG plaintiffs had voted to throw in the towel and drop the now-defunct lawsuit. Those rumors have not yet become a reality, however.
Today was the agreed (postponed) date for the Screen Actors Guild to file its answer to the complaint. It did so, even though the Screen Actors Guild no longer technically exists (or is in the process of being wound up). For arcane procedural reasons, it is still named as a defendant, despite efforts to substitute its successor, SAG-AFTRA. It seems strangely appropriate, perhaps, for a ghost of a lawsuit to be pursuing a ghost of an organization.
Our view remains firm that “there is no there there” in this lawsuit. The merger has been completed. The District Court is not going to unwind it. The court has also expressed grave doubt whether plaintiffs have a case, even if by the sterile rules of pleading they have alleged enough to keep the case technically alive. If it’s alive, it’s on life support. And that life support will be shut off unless the plaintiffs are willing to keep paying thousands of dollars to their lawyers in order to keep going.
Last one out please remember to turn off the lights.
It’s this weekend, in New York – a two day session.
Word is that former AFTRA NED, now SAG-AFTRA Co-NED Kim Roberts Hedgpeth has resigned. This means David White would remain as NED of the new union.
UPDATE: Here’s the official SAG-AFTRA release:
Kim Roberts Hedgpeth Steps Down as Co-National Executive Director of SAG-AFTRA
April 16, 2012
After 31 Years of Service, Kim Roberts Hedgpeth Steps Down as Co-National Executive Director of SAG-AFTRA
LOS ANGELES, CA (April 16, 2012) — SAG-AFTRA today announced that Kim Roberts Hedgpeth has decided to step down as SAG-AFTRA Co-National Executive Director on April 30, after 31 years of service to union performers, recording artists and broadcast professionals working in the entertainment and news media industries.
“It was with great pride and enormous satisfaction that I joined union members, colleagues, and staff on March 30th to celebrate the overwhelming vote in favor of the merger of AFTRA and SAG,” said Hedgpeth. “Having achieved this important goal, for which many of us worked tirelessly for so many years, now is the right moment to begin a new chapter in life. I am grateful for the love, respect, and support of our staff and leadership team. And I know the SAG-AFTRA membership will be well served under the leadership of Co-National Presidents Ken Howard and Roberta Reardon and National Executive Director David White.”
Roberta Reardon praised Hedgpeth, saying: “Kim is in a league of her own. She has dedicated much of her professional life to AFTRA and we are all stronger because of that passion and dedication. Through her remarkable negotiating skills at the bargaining table, her superb administration of the Union and her principled attentiveness to the needs of members, Kim has improved the careers and lives of thousands of union members around the nation. She is an inspiration to me and everyone around her, and I am eternally grateful to Kim for her expertise, her guidance and, most of all, her close and sustaining friendship these many years.”
SAG-AFTRA Co-National President Ken Howard said, “Kim has been a strong voice and committed activist on behalf of performers for more than 30 years. We are all extremely grateful for her hard work. She leaves a legacy of outstanding service and representation on behalf of our members and I wish her the best in all her future endeavors.”
SAG-AFTRA Co-National Executive Director David White said, “Kim’s tireless effort and many contributions to performers over the years helped build first AFTRA, and now SAG-AFTRA, on solid foundations that will support and represent actors, broadcasters and recording artists for years to come. I am personally grateful for her leadership during the merger process and the work that she has done to ensure a successful integration of our two organizations. She has our heartfelt thanks and our very best wishes for future success as she embarks on the next chapter in her career.”
Hedgpeth had served as AFTRA’s National Executive Director since 2005. During her career at AFTRA, she served as Chief Negotiator for AFTRA’s national agreements for network news, scripted programming, non-dramatic programs, sound recordings and radio broadcasting, as well as hundreds of local TV and radio station staff and freelance negotiations for various AFTRA Locals. She held a variety of positions in the union since first joining the AFTRA staff in 1981, including Co-Executive Director of the New York Local, Executive Director of the AFTRA San Francisco Local/SAG San Francisco Branch, AFTRA Assistant National Executive Director for News and Broadcast and AFTRA’s Associate National Executive Director.
Hedgpeth is a graduate of Harvard University and Georgetown University Law Center, and from 1998 to 2001, she took a brief hiatus from the Union to serve as Director of Labor and Employee Relations at Harvard University and Vice-President of Human Resources for Safe Horizon in New York City.
Hedgpeth also served as a Trustee of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds, a member of the boards of the AFM-AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund, Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies and SoundExchange, a Vice President of the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees and a Vice President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America. She is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 12th District Economic Advisory Council.
In an earlier post, we highlighted the muddled state of talent agent relations in the new SAG-AFTRA, and noted that the Merger Agreement had essentially kicked the problem forward in hopes that someday, somehow it might be resolved.
Another area of conflict — which in many ways epitomizes the cultural differences between SAG and AFTRA — is the tension between SAG’s Global Rule 1 and AFTRA’s “No Contract/No Work” Rule. And just as with the talent agents, the Merger Agreement kicks this problem forward as well:
After the Effective Date, until and unless modified by SAG-AFTRA, Global Rule 1 of the Screen Actors Guild Constitution and By-Laws shall continue to applu in the same manner in the areas that were within SAG’s traditional jurisdiction and AFTRA’s “No Contract/No Work” Rule shall continue to apply in the same manner in the areas that were within AFTRA’s traditional jurisdiction. Any conflicts or disputes regarding the application of Global Rule 1 and the “No Contract/No Work” Rule may be resolved by the Initial Executive Committee or Executive Committee.
This is another area where some level of clarity will be needed soon, or else both rules will become increasingly meaningless as a practical matter.