Thursday, February 23, 2006

Venting My Spleen

Okay, I said I didn't want to get into this, but maybe if I just get it off my chest it will go away and I won't have to deal with feelings of avoidance.

Went to a SAG meeting Monday to meet the new union president, Alan Rosenberg, and Secretary/Treasurer, Connie Stevens. Afterwards, one friend called them "wrong-headed but not insane," and I think that about sums it up. Our union is filled with some of the most ridiculous ego-centric grandstanders, megalomaniacs, wheel re-inventors, and just plain head cases, and I respect that Alan and Connie have to create some order out of all this chaos. I also believe they're earnest and well-intentioned. What I didn't get, though, was a sense that we, in the Branches, know what we're talking about on certain issues, particularly Merger and the Commercials Contract.

I think there's a prevalent sense among members of the "Membership First" faction that the Branches are 1). pro-employer, 2). easily duped by all the previous administrations that have called for a merger between AFTRA and SAG, and 3). anti-Hollywood. In reality, I think most Branch members are none of that.

The idea that we are "pro-employer" seems to come from the fact that we voice serious concerns about going on strike over the Commercials contract in the near future, but that's mostly because we arguably bore a disproportional amount of the pain in 2000 — the Commercials contract accounts for more income in the branches than it does in Hollywood and, because we have fewer members than Hollywood, we had more work cut out for us in prosecuting the last strike. So we acknowledge the inherently adversarial position we're in versus our employers, but at the same time we're STRONGLY in favor of working out an equitable deal, because — at least at this point in time — getting even half of what you want is preferable to risking it all by going to war.

Regarding Merger: Again — the Branches have a disproportional amount of members who are necessarily members of both AFTRA and SAG, and many of us, including Yours Truly, have lost Pension and/or Health benefits because our income was split between two jurisdictions. (You have to make a certain amount each year to qualify for benefits under each union's plan, but if the qualifying level is, say, $15K, a $29K wage-earner is outta luck in both unions if his/her income was evenly split.) What Membership First does not seem to understand (or, at least, has never said that I remember) is that we in the branches are voting our pocketbooks. All the Pro & Con rhetoric is very entertaining, thank you, but in the end, we've done the math and decided that the best thing is to have just one benefits plan. And since we, by law, cannot exert a majority influence over both Benefit Plans (both are controlled 50% by our employers, who quite definitely do not want the two unions to merge), we've decided to exert control where we can — by merging the two unions anyway. Matter of fact, the adversarial stance that M.F. seems to chronically take with regard to our employers is strangely absent on this one issue, and it's an inconsistancy that breeds distrust in the Branches — it seems to indicate an agenda that is based more on intra-union factional power than on strengthening the power of the workers versus their employers.

And lastly, we're not anti-Hollywood — except when Hollywood adopts an anti-Branches stance. Seriously, although it was mentioned numerous times by Mr. Rosenberg during the meeting that we in the Branches "have no interest in DVD residuals" (a matter that is important to those working the Theatrical contract, i.e., mostly Hollywood Branch members), the fact is that most of us (I reckon) would defer to Hollywood if a majority of those members thought a strike over the issue was necessary. Conversely though, we think a certain amount of deference on Hollywood's part would be nice when it comes to the Commercials contract (which, again, disproportionately affects the membership in the [non-Hollywood] Branches).

It's also worth noting that, following the Strike of 2000, the very next issue put to the membership concerned re-apportioning the governance of the union so that it was proportional to the number of members in each Branch (which, of course, would give the Hollywood branch alone a 50%+ majority control in the boardroom). At the time, it was called "undemocratic" that no single branch had majority control, but — if the non-Hollywood branches voted together — they could override Hollywood. However, there's a reason our Founding Fathers created the U.S. Senate. It was so that those states with a disproportional amount of resources and/or wealth (say, for instance, New England) would not feel that those in the more populous states were always making all the decisions (e.g., Rhode Island doesn't stand a chance in the House of Representatives against California). And the reason that's a good thing in a union is that you may, someday, have to strike. And if the rest of the nation feels that Hollywood is making all the decisions — even when they run counter to what the rest of the nation tells Hollywood it wants — you're going to have serious problems the next time you want to have a nationwide strike.

I'm not saying that the new governance situation is "wrong," per se, but the timing of it, as well as the rhetoric that was bandied about at the time, was a serious slap in the face to the branches who had just prosecuted a nationwide strike that many felt had been instigated primarily by members in Hollywood. (I don't happen to hold that opinion — I still think it was necessary at that point in time — but the vehemence with which some very vocal Hollywood members went about pursuing the change in governance afterward only heightened the suspicion on the part of many in the Branches that they had been duped in 2000.)

There, I hope that does it. Seriously, I don't want this blog to degenerate into one of those partisan sites that seem to discuss only union issues, but to entirely ignore my feelings on these issues seemed wrong as well. Spleen vented, damage done. On to the next thing...

1 comment:

Story said...

Nononono. I, at least, want to hear. Since I'm completely ignorant. Instead of being a rant, your blog explained many many things to me of which I was previously ignorant - i.e. governing structure, current issue, etc.