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The Inexplicable Sounds of Silence



Okay, so the negotiating committee DIDN'T approve a measure asking members for a strike authorization, as I was told by three sources that it was going to. Instead, the committee, dominated by the MembershipFirst faction, deftly handed off the responsibility to the national board, asking IT to send a strike referendum to members.

Thus, the political gamesmanship continues--rather than take full ownership of the hard-line strategy they have spent more than a year devising, national executive Doug Allen, national president Alan Rosenberg, and MembershipFirst have palmed off the job to the new national board, on which the moderates now have  a slim majority. Make no mistake: This was a deliberate attempt by the hard-liners to put their Hollywood adversaries--newly elected board members from the Unite for Strength party--on the spot. And what has Unite for Strength done? It has remained inexplicably silent.

Unite for Strength was formed on the basis of one idea: to merge SAG and AFTRA. That's a fine idea, as far as it goes, but it has nothing to do with the events that are happening right now. Why hasn't UFS spokesman Ned Vaughn come forward to comment on the most significant development so far in these negotiations, the push for a strike vote?

[We interrupt this blog posting to report that Ned Vaughn has now commented. Sort of.]

"The matter of a strike authorization is now in the hands of the national board and that’s where it will be dealt with," Vaughn wrote in an email. "It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on it further at this time."

Also, a national board member and longtime SAG veteran told me it's not wholly unreasonable that UFS members, who have not sat in on any of these negotiations nor attended their first board meeting, to keep their silence until they get more information. Nevertheless, UFS'ers have to form a clear position on this issue and communicate it to the members and to the public. Otherwise, why did they run for office?

As for MembershipFirst, it thinks that striking is not necessarily a bad idea. So why don't its leaders and its leading surrogate (that would be Allen) stand up and say so out loud? Why don't they look actors square in the eye and make the public case for it? Really: Stand up and tell them why actors should sacrifice their time and money, in this economy, for the cause--which, essentially, is full union jurisdiction in all content created for new media by AMPTP companies.

And what of the board members in the New York and Regional Branch divisions? Some of its members have intimated that they think a strike is not necessarily a good idea. Why don't they stand up and say so, publicly? Why don't they say that the final offer presented by the AMPTP, while not spectacular, is acceptable to them, and why don't they state their reasons?

Granted, it's a little disingenuous for a journalist who has routinely proffered the cloak of anonymity in exchange for information to all of a sudden demand that people stand up and be accountable. But what can I tell you: Bald-faced hypocrisy is an unfortunate byproduct of reporting.

Besides, there is a more pressing issue at hand than a little Harvey Dent impersonation: The stalemate over a new TV/film contract has lasted for three months. This latest move for a strike vote could send already skittish investors--ones who might otherwise provide the cash and credit for projects--into hibernation, which means actors' job opportunities will be limited. Isn't it time that elected leaders--and the people who earn six-figures salaries in service to their needs--stand up and state their true feelings, openly and without cynical political games?

If any single group of workers has skin thick enough to hear discomfiting news, it's actors. They receive it routinely. Do you really think you're going to hurt their feelings? Do you really believe they aren't smart enough or tough enough to understand your version of the truth?

Meantime, Back Stage wants to hear from actors: What do you think of the prospect of a strike? How would it affect you? What do you think of the AMPTP's final offer? What changes would you like to see made? How well do you think SAG's leadership has fared over the past year? Contact me at [email protected]. Please include your headshot and a phone number where you can be reached.

P.S.: If you haven't already, please participate in the Back Stage poll on whether you would accept or reject the AMPTP's final offer. Last I checked, it was 5-0 in favor of acceptance.

--Andrew Salomon

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Andrew -

Yours is one explanation.

Here's a different perspective.

The most effective strike vote is the one in which the union's leadership shows the greatest solidarity. In SAG's case, the national board can provide a more effective show of solidarity than the negotiating committee.

President Alan Rosenberg and Executive Director Doug Allen every step of the way have demonstrated resolve and patience. They have methodically built the case for the contract that SAG must achieve to remain a viable creative guild going forward into the brave new, I mean NOW, world of Internet content distribution.

This decision - for the national board to take the action of calling for the strike authorization - is the next logical step in this process, because the goal going into any sort of labor action is complete solidarity within the guild. The tighter you are going into such an action, the more difficult it is for your opponent to find fissures to pressure into fractures.

As much as those outside the guild looking in - especially the AMPTP - would like this to be about SAG's internal politics, the fact is, all along it's been about getting not just the best possible contract, but a contract that meets particular thresholds below which acting would no longer be a viable profession for the vast majority of middle-class actors.

We know what's at stake. We take this very seriously. We have to get it right.

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