Talking With ... Anne-Marie Johnson
On Monday, Jan. 26, SAG national executive director Doug Allen was fired through a written assent decree signed by a majority of board members. He was replaced by former SAG general counsel David White, who will serve as interim NED, and SAG senior adviser John T. McGuire, who will become chief negotiator.
Later on the night of the 26th, Strike Watch spoke with Anne-Marie Johnson, SAG’s 1st vice president, chairman of the Hollywood Board, and lead spokesperson for Membership First. Johnson has been and remains one of Allen’s strongest defenders, stating that in his two years as SAG’s chief negotiator, he had always “done the work of the union.”
This is the first of several interviews with key board members that will run this week. It was conducted, condensed, and edited by Andrew Salomon.
What happens next for the guild?
I have absolutely no idea. You’ll have to ask the 52.5 percent majority that signed the assent.
What will your specific focus be?
We speak for the members, and we’ll continue to do so. We still have our board seats and we’re still obligated to do the work for the members, and that’s what we are charged to do and we will do so, regardless of our national executive director.
What do you remember about David White when he was there?
You know, I’m not going to comment about David White right now.
I think it’s best if I don’t comment.
After the TV-and-film contract gets settled, assuming it does, will you turn your attention to the September elections?
No. I never look that far ahead. There are other contracts to deal with, there are other issues regarding the union to certainly deal with. I guess we will just handle them. I’m the first vice president, I’m the chairman of the Hollywood board, I’ve got the specific obligations to the 70,000 members I represent.
Some have said you only cared about Hollywood, not about the union as a whole.
Since the beginning of Alan Rosenberg’s term, when we held a very healthy majority, we could have easily voted to close the joint offices, we could have easily and aggressively taken a position against AFTRA. There are many things we could have done that would have benefited and truly damaged the RBD. And we never did that. Nor did we ever do anything via written assent.
The moderates would probably say they only used written assent because the measure was never allowed to be voted on.
Had they presented it in an honest manner, the conversation certainly would have taken place, but I’m not going to rewrite history or go through the whole mess. It took place in executive session [meaning the proceedings are confidential], I know exactly what they did, I know exactly who was dishonest, and it is what it is. It was the path they chose to take.
Do you think that one of the major differences between these two camps is that whole idea of strike and whether to strike or not?
No. The whole idea of Sam Freed and the New York board, Ned Vaughn and the members of the Hollywood board who identify themselves with Unite for Strength, and the Regional Branch Division is purely—it’s very simple. They want to merge with AFTRA. That’s it.
Looking at it objectively, do you think merger is going to happen anytime soon?
It depends on what type of merger. A merger that benefits actors can certainly happen.
How would you define that?
I would define it as: All onscreen talent who have been traditionally represented by the Screen Actors Guild and all onscreen talent in AFTRA should be represented by the Screen Actors Guild.
And AFTRA would just represent the broadcasters and the radio people and like that?
In my opinion.
What about the argument that actors are becoming so diversified that to have two separate unions doesn’t make sense?
I don’t know many actors who are broadcasters.
There’s no place in the future that you see where these two sides can come together and find some common ground?
After what took place today, it will be very, very difficult.
It seems to me that the national executive director’s position is going to be determined by whoever has the slim majority at any given point.
That can’t be good.
It can’t be good, and unless something changes constitutionally it will continue to be so.
Doesn’t that impede the progress, though? Everybody talks about what a transformative time this is in media, in entertainment, and it would seem to me that you would need somebody who can chart a course to carry the guild forward during times like this, and not be fighting these battles that seem to be straight out of the Old Testament.
I’m assuming that Sam Freed and the New York board and David Hartley-Margolin with the regional branches and Ned Vaughn with Unite for Strength believe that David White is that individual, at least in the interim.
When you were voted out as vice president in 2006, former 2nd vice president Paul Christie was vocal in your defense. It seemed that there was a time in 2006 where national president Alan Rosenberg, you, and Paul were moving closer together. What happened?
Alan and I made a concerted effort to reach out nationally, to speak to the New York board, to speak to New York leadership, to speak to the regional branches. We spent a considerable amount of time and energy trying to mend. I guess my fellow board members from Membership First saw the future better than I did, and made it very clear that they didn’t—nor will they ever—trust Paul Christie and the New York board, and never trust the regional branch members, and they tried to tell us that. They warned us that this will come to no good. And I was removed because I disagreed with their vision. Obviously, today, it is proven that my fellow board members who were part of Membership First were right.
Isn’t that a self-fulfilling prophesy? It seems Alan was forced to take a harder line to placate Membership First because he got a challenge from Seymour Cassel for the presidency in 2007 and he barely won reelection. The Hollywood board also forced Doug to try bloc voting and take an aggressive stance with AFTRA, which put off New York and the branches. Isn’t that what happened?
No. And that has nothing to do with today. But, as I said before, Alan is the only president who traveled and met with all branches except for one, and we spent a considerable amount of time, meeting with board members from other divisions, trying to find some common ground. We thought we did. Hollywood was just more sensitive to the fact that these individuals weren’t exactly honest with their intentions.
Are there any areas where you feel there could have been a compromise between these two camps?
They made it very clear, Ned Vaughn and Sam Freed and David Hartley-Margolin made it very clear that there would be no compromise as long as Doug is the national executive director/chief negotiator.
That was obviously a deal-breaker for you guys, because Doug had to stay?
In our opinion, and the opinion of the majority of the Hollywood board, without question, Doug was doing the work of the union, and I find it fascinating that Sam Freed and the New York board, and David Hartley-Margolin and the RBD board, and Ned Vaughn and the Unite for Strength members of the Hollywood board fired Doug because he was too strong of an advocate for the members of the Screen Actors Guild. And because he upset some of the members of the AMPTP.