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Talk Back: Will You Get Cast to Vote?

Talkback One member, one vote. This is what I believe for all of my SAG union sisters and brothers. The "qualified voting petition" claims that about 75 percent of SAG members make less than $1,000 per year in film and TV earnings -- sad but true. Yet instead of fighting to get SAG members more work, a handful of thespians got together to write a petition that says if you don't work enough according to their criteria, you can't vote on contracts.

Why punish the victimized and disenfranchised members even more? Remember, today's background artist is tomorrow's day-player. Today's stunt-player is tomorrow's superstar. This great nation has fought hard for too long to get voting rights for African Americans, Native Americans, women, and other groups. So why would I want to take away the rights of my fellow union members who are already disenfranchised by their lack of SAG-covered work?

I was surprised to see names such as Sally "Norma Rae" Field and Meryl Streep among the alleged 1,500 actors who signed the qualified-voting petition -- less than 1 percent of the guild's membership. I saw the names of people I love and people I respect. And yes, some of them are my friends. But where are the megastar signatures. Where's Brad? Angelina? Jack? Denzel? Jodie? Madonna? Jet? J. Lo? Will?

I also noted that almost all the current New York SAG board signed this divisive petition, which did not shock me at all. It's shameful, in my opinion. However, at least one N.Y. SAG member demanded his name be removed once he fully understood the spectrum of the petition. I have to ask myself, "How many others signed it without fully understanding or signed because a co-star or a friend asked them to?"

Believe me, this awful petition, which I have heard described as elitist and even racist, would affect the rights of the black, Latino, Asian, senior, and disabled SAG members -- those in categories that according to SAG get a minimal percentage of roles. In SAG elections -- as in national elections -- only about 25 percent of the membership votes. That's unfortunate, but it's the members' choice to vote. Those who feel informed and confident about issues do so. That being said, when so few vote already, we should not limit union voting rights even further.

I've also heard those who support the "affected voting" say, "Well, Actors' Equity has qualified voting." Frankly, I do not care what other unions do when it comes to voting.

And I question the bad timing of this divisive proposal. At a time when SAG and AFTRA are facing negotiations with the AMPTP, I don't understand the need to present this motion now, when we must be united.

I want to be clear: This petition, which I doubt would ever pass as a rule, would not affect me. It's not about me. It's about my guild and my guild sisters' and brothers' rights.

I've heard those who support this denial of voting rights mockingly call the lower-SAG-income earners or those who have not worked in a while yet keep paid-up SAG cards "vanity cardholders." Huh? The entire business is about "vanity."

Thankfully, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and most on the SAG board are against this action. Some point out that SAG already practices qualified voting, because sometimes ballots are sent to only a small portion of the membership. For example, if a contract only affects puppeteers, ballots will be sent only to puppeteers. However, any member can request a ballot to vote, and the current TV/Theatrical Contract is an industrywide pact that affects tens of thousands of actors.

As a member of SAG and AFTRA and a community and union activist, I say again: One member, one vote.

-- Erik-Anders Nilsson

Erik-Anders Nilsson has worked union stunt, commercial, principal, and background contracts. His credits include 'Rescue Me', 'The Last Seduction', and the upcoming Steven Soderbergh film 'Guerrilla'.

Editor's Note:

On April 12, the national board of the Screen Actors Guild tabled a proposal that would have required members to meet certain benchmarks to be eligible to vote on specific contracts. Back Stage invited two actors to address the issue of "qualified voting." Erik-Anders Nilsson, who is opposed to the measure, accepted. Ned Vaughn, the author of the petition that led to the proposal, declined but indicated he may address the issue after the union's TV/Theatrical Contract negotiations are settled.

Meantime, Back Stage invites other SAG members to share their opinions of qualified voting and other union issues. Email Back Stage news editors Lauren Horwitch ([email protected]) or Andrew Salomon ([email protected]).

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I did not realize how sexist, racist and out of touch Sally Field,
Meryl Streep and the others who cruelly voted so negatively
against their "vanity" fellow actors who always make them look good in films.. and want a chance to do what they do.. SHAME ON THEM! We are all EQUAL! WE ARE ALL ACTORS!
Will their next step be stopping American Citizens voting
priviledges because they are not millionaires and should
not vote according to them?
We all work very HARD.. most times HARDER THAN THEM..
they make millions and we make next to nothing.. now they
want to take our voting privileges away?
When you start believing your own press you are in trouble..
their day in the sun may not last forever and the Universe might
want them to feel the struggle of their fellow actors and perhaps
they will learn to be kind when they have had so much!
I am ashamed to be part of such a racist, sexist Union!
I was a SAG member way before they were! I am on my
SAG PENSION and still active.. are they going to take that away
from me and countless others like me?
How dare they come in and start their own rules? SHAME ON THEM! I HOPE IT ALL COMES BACK TO THEM SOME DAY A

As a member of both AFTRA and SAG for several years now, I am both disheartened and disappointed over the majority and minority misunderstanding of what is going on in both unions. Mr. Nilsson points out the bare facts and reality of what is starting to occur in our unions. As they say, art mirrors the culture in which it lives in. In this day and age of what is occuring in our world with big brother watching and the classes growing farther and farther apart it is only natural that this mindset is organically growing and baring fruit in our thespian community with the powers that be. Like our country becoming more aware and taking action for the rights of it's people, it's only time where as union members we will take action as a whole and let "the powers that be of whom grow fat off the fruits of our labor" (crew, background, day players)and set a standard and yet a goal to be recognized as equal voting members of our union. We sacrifice so much for a dream that is offered to so few and yet do it for the stability of healthcare, pension, and yes our future. Please stand united with Mr. Nillson, myself and others to let THOSE who have signed ,sadly, their character away to bring them back to their roots and where they came from.
One more thing, I do take note on many on the list of being what as a LIBERAL I take offense to the label "limousine liberals" that the RIGHT tends to label "Do Gooder" principal actors with. How they make it so easy for the RIGHT in this particular issue when they can't even look a crew member, background, or day player in the eye and say "We are on the same playing field my brothers and sisters" but they can jet set across the planet to so called "Announce" they are against genocide. Hey, I think without the proclamations, we can all safely say the rest of us are too. Saving Darfur...great cause! How bout saving face and save your union from it's own growing classist structure too! Hey you'll save on jet fuel and be saving the enviroment as well....God Bless!

Ned Vaughn, one of the authors of this misguided attempt to disenfranchise three fourths of the SAG membership through "qualified voting", reveals the true purpose of this petition in his statement that perhaps he would comment "after" the SAG- AMPTP contract is settled. This petition came up at this time due to the hysteria that those currently earning a decent living do not want a strike to interrupt their income. Their fear is that those not currently working might more readilly vote to strike because they have no income to lose.
AFTRA formed a committee to review the proposal,and SAG sent the issue to the GGRC or Guild Government Review Committee for their recommendations.
This elitist idea of "qualified voting" usually only comes up when one group deems themselves "more equal than others" as in George Orwell's "1984".

Any paid up member of SAG can work any of it's contracts and are therefore entitled to vote on any contract or issue in which they are "thereby affected". That is the language which exists in the SAG constitution. The purpose of the petition was to get board action before a vote on the current contract arose. It will not happen. I firmly believe many of the signators of Ned's petition did not fully understand the issues. The petition opened with a misleading, fear inducing statement that "working" actors may lose the right to vote on their own contracts. I call that fearmongering and instantly divisive. I formerly served on the SAG board for six years and still serve on the GGRC committee. I look forward to the debate of this issue!

I signed the petition because I want the debate, and I am not afraid of discussing this. I would prefer that the language of the SAG Constitution be clarified instead of being ambiguous.

"Shameful", "You should be ashamed", "Shame on you!" - I read and hear these phrases almost on a daily basis issuing primarily from the keyboards and mouths of these Membership First folks - who should maybe take care of their own Shame Issues instead of constantly attempting to project it onto others.

Also, what's with their constant use of the race card, the "disenfranchised" card? Do they really have to keep pulling out such demagogic rhetoric in order to stir up those who would vote to keep them in power?

If ever there was a need for change in SAG it's now. And no, I don't believe anyone should be excluded or should exclude themselves from the process, whether it's "affected member voting" or "qualified Board service requirements", and neither does anyone I hang out with.

There have been a sizable number of SAG and AFTRA office holders, and would-be holders, who would like to turn our Unions into an elitist high wage earner club and damn the "great unwashed".

They were very evident in the 90's. A time that saw give-backs and giveaways dominate the Background Contracts, while higher wage earners saw steady increases. "It's the Screen ACTORS Guild", not the "Screen EXTRAS Guild" was one of the favored war cries of these "champions of compassion"; more than happy to add the Producer P&H contributions, paid in the name of the thousands of "Screen EXTRAS Guild" members, who were unable to meet the income standard to qualify to use them, themselves. Why so few "haves" and some many "have not's"? An irresponsible flooding of the rolls, via low membership thresholds, that had nothing to do with "Acting", and the closing off of avenues of additional wages, such as "Silent Bit". Add the shameful total giveaway of a mandatory casting upgrade to "Day Player" to the actor whose image was "looped". Replaced with a nothing to the "looped" actor, and a “three for the price of one” deal for those, in the very small, select, ADR elite, who added their voices to the on-screen performance of the background actor, who is paid nothing but the original background fee. Top it off with the wholesale reduction of the number of background actors required on a set and you've got the kind of road blocks that keep the majority of the membership in a constant state of near poverty and their Producer Contributions in the pockets of ”The winners of Life's Lottery", as one of our politicians once put it.

By sheer strength of numbers we were able to put into office a counter weight to this unprincipled, selective representation of our membership and the wholesale rape of our contracts was halted.

The "qualified voter" (see http://sagwatchdog.com/cgi-bin/index.cgi/read/894) and (http://www.membershipfirst.com/qual.html) concept was an out-growth of that successful counter measure to unfairness. As you know, background actors are compelled to support strikes that may affect, primarily Principal and Day Players BUT neither group will support any strike for the low wage earners in our Unions. That means, the only weapon you have, to keep our leadership and negotiators focused on what's best for all our members, is your vote. Read the list of names who want to take away your one recourse to cavalier abandonment of low wage earners, whatever the reason, and think your vote through.

In a year when the political party most of our membership will vote for in November, has chosen "CHANGE" for its slogan and an upward adjustment of taxable income "Caps", our leadership is pushing stay the course. The way you get a "committee endorsement" is to prove, in your interview with the board, that you don't pose a threat to their ongoing agenda. The beginning of the "it's our union, not the low wage earners" movement, and its many incarnations, was a direct result of an attempt to raise the cap on the amount of earnings subject to dues. The way short-falls used to be countered. As one board member, then, put it: "If it's a matter of me getting an extra bag of groceries each month or some extra getting pension and health benefits, I want my bag of groceries".

We've all experienced the hills and valleys of our precarious business. Experience tells us that our vote becomes more important, when our fortunes wan.

If they ever get this "qualified voter” passed, and I wouldn't bet against it, the movement has been around for decades and, in some cases, supported by the same people, your job will become just another bargaining chip, to be traded for growth in the higher wage earners incomes and benefits.

It's your call....

P. S. There is an irony in that, I notice some of the names of Office holders, that support "Qualified Voting" couldn't, to my knowledge, meet the work standard they propose.

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