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Filibuster Saves Allen's Job -- for Now

  1. Strikewatch_blogDoug Allen, chief negotiator and national executive director of the Screen Actors Guild, was almost fired at a nearly 30-hour national board meeting Monday and Tuesday, but saved his job, at least temporarily, after national president Alan Rosenberg and his fellow Membership First partisans beat back a measure that would have dismissed him.

Guild sources contended that the moderates had the votes to pass their measure, which included proposals to dissolve the negotiating committee and to kill a proposed strike-authorization. But Membership First’s parliamentary maneuvers—such as encouraging their partisans on the 71-member board speak twice on the controversial resolution, introducing competing resolutions, and then debating those—successfully kept the omnibus measure from reaching the floor. Procedurally, the SAG board needs 67 percent of those voting (or 47 if all 71 are present) to cut off debate but the moderates were unable to do so.

According to a source within the moderate faction, the highest percentage they achieved to cut off debate was 60 percent, and the lowest was 55 percent. “They thwarted the will of the majority of the board,” said the source, who requested anonymity.

Moderates on the board—from the New York and Regional Branch divisions as well as the Hollywood-based faction Unite for Strength—wanted to hit the reset button on long-stalled negotiations between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The removal of Allen, a lightning rod for board members outside of Hollywood for most of his two years in the job, was central to their strategy.

The 29 hours were almost surreal, and not just because of the lack of sleep, sources said. For example, the meeting was originally scheduled to end at 10 a.m. Pacific time, but there was a motion to extend it to 1 p.m. There were eight hours of debate on that issue alone, the source said, for a net loss of five hours.

Around 6 a.m. Pacific, two sources said, a Membership First board member was caught voting Chicago style: she was holding three of the hand-held voting devices, casting ballots for two of her fellow MF partisans who were out of the room, which is against the rules. There was talk of a motion to dismiss the three members, either from the meeting or the board, but that went nowhere, a source said. 

After the meeting was over, moderates on the board tried to get the procedure passed through a written motion. According to SAGWatch.net, this was possible through wording in the constitution that allows for measures to be passed outside of a board meeting if a majority of the board agrees to it. The move was quickly rejected on procedural grounds by Rosenberg, who said in a news release that the motion lacked the proper number of signatures, among other things. Allen and the negotiating committee, he added, "remain committed to advancing the cause of actors and our crucial contract negotiations.”

It was uncertain what the guild’s next move would be, but uncertainty and political paralysis have been part of Hollywood’s largest union for much of the past decade. The guild has had five executive directors in eight years, two of whom (Bob Pisano and Greg Hessinger) did not sit well with Membership First and did not necessarily exit by choice. Pisano was eased out, and Hessinger was fired.

Stephen Diamond, an associate professor of labor law at Santa Clara University, came close to succeeding Hessinger but withdrew his candidacy over governance issues. The guild then hired Allen. In an interview, Diamond said he did not think it was possible for SAG to make much progress for a new TV-and-film contract if Allen stays.

“The only way to manage an exit strategy here is to change the team and bring in a delegation of anti-strike A-listers to sit at the table,” he said. “Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Sally Field, and Susan Sarandon are responsible for what’s happening in some way.”

Those actors and other high-profile members, such as Kevin Spacey and Steve Carrell, signed a petition urging a no vote for the strike-authorization ballots, which were scheduled to be mailed Jan. 2, but the move was postponed when two UFS board members asked for the special board meeting.

According to a SAG news release, no date has been set for the strike-authorization to be mailed. For the national board to get the authority to call a strike, it would need 75 percent of members who vote to approve. The odds seem long, given that the vote-no petition now includes more than 2,000 names; a similar vote-yes petition has more than 4,000 names.

“For Doug to get back in that chair would be really tough,” said a longtime industry observer with experience in Hollywood labor negotiations. “It’s unimaginable to me how they can move forward. It’s a clearly untenable situation when a majority of the board has expressed a desire for him to leave.”

Even though he received broad-based support when he was hired, Allen has been a target of moderates’ ire and object of their frustration for about 18 of his 24 months in office. He led a series of moves that alienated the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a sister union and longtime bargaining partner. The moderates, whose philosophies on negotiating and organizing are similar to AFTRA's, contend the weakened relationship between the unions has weakened the guild considerably at the negotiating table. In March, AFTRA abandoned Phase One, the unions’ joint bargaining agreement, and negotiated with producers a separate prime-time broadcast TV contract for the first time in three decades.

Before it was ratified, Allen, Rosenberg, and several Membership First partisans waged a campaign urging the unions’ 44,000 joint cardholders to vote against it. The contract was ratified with 62 percent of the vote, a relatively low percentage compared with previous ratification votes. Nevertheless, the two unions have reached a truce of sorts and will negotiate the commercials contract together under Phase One.

If Allen is eventually forced out—moderates could call another national board meeting if they get enough votes—each of the past three NEDs will have left for being politically unpopular with the majority, making it difficult for SAG to find a replacement. Hessinger, who served for six months, was fired shortly after Rosenberg was elected president in 2005 and the national board majority swung in favor of Membership First, which is known for its aggressive negotiating posture and antipathy toward AFTRA.

Asked by Back Stage who might want to be the guild’s next national executive director, Hessinger said, “The cycle of behavior is clearly not conducive to attracting qualified candidates. With that said, I believe there will always be somebody qualified who is attracted to the challenge of trying to unite the guild.”

Hessinger, a partner in New York-based law firm Reed Smith, will sit on the opposite side of the table from the guild and AFTRA during negotiations for a new commercials contract, which expires March 31. Officials for SAG and AFTRA have maintained that the guild’s crisis will not affect its ability to negotiate a deal with advertisers and advertising agencies.

Hessinger, who will sit on the Joint Policy Committee, the negotiating arm for management, wasn’t so sure. “The JPC,” he said, “is concerned about the ability of SAG and AFTRA to seriously confront the fundamental change that has occurred in the advertising industry.”

--Andrew Salomon

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, it was stated Stephen Diamond withdrew his candidacy over money issues; he withdrew over governance issues. Strike Watch regrets the error.

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I'd like to see the Membership First people defend this undemocratic maneuvering in the face of their constant mantra of "let the members decide."


This week someone from Membership First tried to blacklist the SAG nominees by telling people not to vote for said nominees if they are anti-strike. Now this. Will they stoop to any level possible to get what they want? They should ALL be thrown off the board, since clearly they have no interest in the NATIONAL membership and only care about the opinions and agenda of their faction. Their attempt at "governing" is an embarrassment to this guild.

The MFers are a destructive group of members who only consider their own views as worthy. Jimmy Hoffa could run our union better than Doug "all the way down the field" Allen is doing.

The membership first party, now a minority on the SAG Board because of their electoral losses last Fall, showed symptoms in the SAG Board room today once displayed below ground in the bunkers of Berlin in the Spring of 1945.
The majority will of course rule regardless of the sad & unfortunate minority filibuster that ran out the clock on this crucial SAG National Board meeting.
Now the SAG electorate has more than enough reasons to vote out the remainder of the so-called "hardliners" whose terms weren't up last August but will be on the Summer '09 ballot, and vote in union constructivists to join the new majority who were set back today by the superior parliamentary maneuvering of the minority party.

I'd like to address a common misperception about these corporations, that somehow, because of their size and diversification, they're not prone to pressure from a union.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Take NBC Universal, which is owned by GE. The corporate parent expects each of its divisions to turn a profit. In truly awful times, management understands that a division or two may have some difficulty, but they still keep each and every division under enormous pressure to stay in the black. If NBC bleeds red, Jeff Zucker's going to need a lot more than his homeboy status with Tracy Morgan to save his cookies.

If a union - any union - that NBC contracts with starts costing the network some real dough as the result of a labor action, Zucker's bosses are going to ask tough questions and expect strong answers. Same with the other networks and movie studios.

A united Screen Actors' Guild is most certainly able to get a contract that doesn't neuter the guild and turn acting into a hobby if your last name ain't Hanks (um, Tom, unless he extends his largesse to his child). The press releases and the statements and the bluster from the AMPTP is just so much negotiating-related noise.

What's truly sad about this situation is SAG has a cadre now of chickensh*ts who are afraid to fight fire with fire. They'd rather eat their own kidneys than piss on the AMPTP's "last best final" BS offer. They don't realize it's far better to be singed now than incinerated later.

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