Monday, November 9, 2009

National Board Report, November 2009

You should be receiving a printed Nevada SAG newsletter in the near future. The newsletter will also be posted on the SAG web site for Nevada. Please join me in thanking the SAG members mentioned in the print newsletter and who contributed to its content.

Strength in unity

This is the time “to find our true strength, rebuild unity, reach out and form unbreakable ties with our fellow labor partners and shift to what it is that binds us as performers,” is how Amy Aquino announced her return to the National Board and national office as our newly elected Secretary-Treasurer. She was addressing the Regional Branch Division (RBD) in Los Angeles. That two-day meeting preceded a two-day national board plenary and the national membership meeting at the Beverly Hilton in mid October.

Newly elected SAG President Ken Howard addressed the board and the national membership meeting by video from the New York SAG boardroom. President Howard promised he will work with everyone in moving forward, not just for SAG members, but for those who dream of this industry and for those who are less fortunate and in need of a union’s protection.  He vowed to be hands-on president and is looking forward to meeting SAG members across the nation during his term in office.

After serving since January as the Interim National Executive Director, David White was hired as permanent National Executive Director during the weekend meetings. Over the course of the weekend he promised improvements in member to member communication and a greater transparency regarding the Branch budget process. He assured the RBD that he knows how important the Branches are in their service to the membership, and organizing in the Branches will be a high priority for SAG.

With twenty Branches, covering the United States, both union secure and “right-to-work for less”; a wide and deep pool of industry experience and contractual knowledge; and their inherent geographic differences, the Branches are in a position to the be the bellwether of changes occurring in the industry and in our society.

White stated he would focus on a strategic vision of where we are and where we want to go. In that vision we need to look and feel coherent, build momentum, communicate in a positive and effective way with our membership, achieve our current goals, and set new goals while operating in the reality of today’s economy and culture.

His approach to contract, wages, working conditions and organizing includes working with the large corporations, but also focuses on growth among local markets with individuals and companies who may grow into the new leaders of our industry and increase their capacity to employ our members. Toward this goal he is seeking open feedback and active participation by members and staff. He wants to listen to and learn from the membership.

Regarding industry relations, White notes we need to move forward with both hard and soft power – the hard power of the stars, our numbers, our profile in the labor industry, our brand identity and our reputation of being aggressive when we need to be; soft power in the need to build friendships, relationships, and membership trust, and maintain our integrity in dealing with management, other unions and the public. SAG carries a great potential to maximize both areas of strength, and we must overcome the “how to avoid dealing with SAG” mentality among producers, young filmmakers and even potential SAG members.

Concerning the polarizing in-fighting that has taken place over the last decade, White believes, “this has occurred because we have people who care.” The internal change is up to the membership and the board, but “we have an external reputation of fighting, militancy and being difficult.” White believes this image needs to also change, at least to say to the industry “you need to be working SAG, you can work with us.”

The National Executive Director would also like to see the full utilization of the web and electronic communication. He is particularly interested in the full potential of SAG-TV, with content generated for and by the Branches.

Organizing, communication and the key role of the Branches

Regional Branch Division Executive Director Linda Dowell echoed White’s focus on technology. An experiment is underway in Dallas to use staff-generated Twitter and web site announcements to keep members up to date on production, auditions, and other key market information as soon as it becomes possible to do so.

She asked the Branches to keep their radars on for production that could be done union, including low budget and student films, Internet and television pilots, commercials and industrials.

Organizing in the Branches falls to the Branch members, who need to identify qualified non-union talent and preach the benefits of being union. Over 26,000 non-union talent work SAG contracts on a regular basis, representing 52% of the work in commercial contracts alone. We need to get over the attitude of not wanting new members because new members compete for our work, and realize that qualified members competing will mean more work for all SAG members. The competition is non-union production and the non-union labor force.

New members versus limited growth

Another side of the issue of organizing is the conflict between needing new members and the cost of joining. Since initiation fees went up in 2007 the number of new joins is down, with the recession making things even more difficult. Payment plans, waivers for lower initiation fees and other incentives work, but only if you buy into a need to bring qualified non-union talent into the union.

Since political voice within the union is determined through apportioned representation, it is important for some Branches, including Nevada, to grow its qualified professional performer membership. My vote on your behalf is one vote versus 2.5 votes per board member from Hollywood, New York or the large Branches. This is based on member census.

Many key budgetary decisions are based on income generated within a Branch. Increased membership means increased income.

And of course increased membership puts a dent in the very serious problem of Taft-Hartley abuse in our Right-to-Work state. If you would like to make a difference in this area, please become an active member of the Organizing Committee.

Proposals discussed during the recent meetings included limiting the number of union vouchers allowed, setting time limits for eligible performers to join the union, invoking preference on the professionalism of background performers, and statutory obstacles that govern union organizing. The discussion and work of the various task forces responsible for these areas will continue and action plans will be developed and implemented where practical and legal. As always, the issue of membership professionalism on-set also came into play in the discussions concerning how and if membership should be encouraged to grow.

SAG Foundation

The SAG Foundation has been hit by this recession and will be cutting back on programs. They will be reducing the number of financially-supported BookPALS programs in the Branches and reducing staff in New York and Los Angeles. They have to put the needs and benefits of the membership first.

To that end the foundation will increase the “Liferaft” live video stream and on-line access to archives in the coming year. “Liferaft” offers programs on surviving the industry, the business of show business, casting, finding and keeping agents, taxes, money management, industry trends and other issues important to actors.

Rules, bylaws and governance

The bylaw standardization program remains in place, with additional revisions and fine-tuning to be done. Steve Dressler is working with Steve Fried of Arizona on Nevada’s structure.

Legislative priorities

Screen Actors Guild supports a host of federal and state legislative efforts that will help SAG membership and their families. Here in Nevada, we need to get members to actively campaign and support three key issues before the government in Nevada and Washington DC. Those interested in joining in the legislative efforts and really making a difference should contact me through our office. The time is now.

•        SAG strongly and emphatically supports the Employee Free Choice Act.

•        SAG favors Net Neutrality for the Internet.

•        SAG supports real Health Care Reform that provides available and affordable care, but is opposed to increased taxation of existing benefits.

Loose lips sink ships

The Screen Actors Guild is a union, and thus governed by numerous federal, state, county and local statutes, including, but not limited to, the National Labor Relations Act.  Because of our status as a labor union, there is much that cannot be discussed outside official channels or the privacy of the boardroom. Employers, various political factions and a growing and well-organized anti-union movement can use information to weaken our union.

There is a very real potential for loose lips to sink ships.

As board members we are held to a confidentiality agreement that can lead to charges within the union and even civil litigation. In some Branches, including Nevada, Branch officers and Council members-at-large are also elected as alternates to the national board, and are held to the same confidentiality criteria.

Much of the RBD meeting, and much of the SAG National Board Plenary were held under this umbrella of confidentiality, including financial and legal reports and actions needed by the board due to legal requirements of outside agencies. An example of these requirements can be found in the process of hiring David White for the National Executive Director, which was an entirely closed session. Staff and Branch presidents were asked to leave the room during the discussion and vote. Another example could be found during the National Right-to-Work [for less] Task Force meeting. Since much of the meeting dealt with organizing strategies and the fight against, among other things, Right-to-Work, this information must be kept from our enemies.

Guild Government

The National Board is divided into three divisions.  In order of size they are Hollywood, New York and the Regional Branch Division (RBD). Nevada is part of the Regional Branch Division. The board meets in division meetings, in bicoastal video plenaries and, as we did in October, in full session as often as needed to do your business as your union.

Between regularly scheduled meetings, a National Executive Committee, selected by the elected Divisional directors, exists to handle matters for the Guild that cannot wait without incurring the expense of a full board plenary. Each division also has their own Executive committees to handle those issues specific to those Divisions. A large network of committees and task forces also meet as needed to handle the various aspects of your union. A hard working paid staff provides much of the day-to-day business support and executive functions. As a member you are free to contact any SAG staff member directly on issues of concern.

National Committees

Steve Dressler and I were very successful in lobbying for Nevada members to serve on as many of the constitutionally limited apportioned committee positions as possible. As a result, Nevada is one of the Branches with the highest number of representatives at the national level. Thank you to those members who stepped up to the plate to volunteer, both those who ended up on committees and those who were not chosen for a national committee spot.

For the first time ever, Nevada is now represented on the Regional Branch Division Executive Committee. It was my pleasure and with pride in all Nevada members that I accepted this key governmental seat.

No comments:

Post a Comment