Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Well folks, here we are again, almost a week after the National Board Plenary in LA and lots to report--well, sort of.

With one local Board Meeting, a detailed follow-up session on the recent National Plenary in LA, several teleconferences, and many emails, messages, and face-to-face meetings with concerned Members under my belt one thing becomes overwhelmingly clear: there are no easy answers, but lots of smart and tough questions are being asked of your Union leaders.

Like many of you, I'm pro-Merger. I believe the strength and health of our Union depends upon the end of jurisdictional warfare between SAG and AFTRA, and I know we are stronger together than we are apart. I'm happy to report that the concept of a merged Union enjoys broad-based support among our members and that the focus remains on our vision of a shared future. The challenge as I see it is, can we sharpen our vision of Merger? Can we benefit from hindsight, which, as my high-school history teacher liked to remind us daily, is 20/20? Can we ensure that Membership is given the clearest possible picture of what Merger will look like before you are asked to vote on the single most important issue in your Union's history?

The answer is YES---and also NO.

The committee members and chairs on the G1 are to be commended for their dedication and hard work in the service of Merger. As a rank and file member who also happens to be a local Board Member, I know about as much as any of you regarding the details of the G1's process and progress. Of the little information I do have, I am limited in what I am legally allowed to relay to you.  You see, on occasion, your NY Board President or Vice President may invoke "confidentiality," prohibiting participating board members from sharing the discussion with the Membership at large. Confidentiality has it’s time and place: it would of course be imprudent and impractical for the G1 to throw its doors wide open to membership, the Media, and the world at large as it seeks creative solutions to the problems inherent in Merging our two Unions.  To lay bare the hundreds of steps along the way to Merger--to involve Membership at this level of the planning stages--would surely be a waste of time and resources and would place an extra burden on the already heavily-taxed G1.

Confidentiality can, however, become a handy way to throw a cloak over contentious issues and leave Membership in the dark. It is not surprising, therefore, that the dearth of information has prompted a seemingly endless set of questions. I've been asked about everything from term limits for governance to the new dues structure to the nature of the Merger vote itself. Many of you are seeking the same answers: Is there a plan to merge the unions’ Pension and Health plans? Is there or will there be a feasibility study done regarding merging the P&H plans? Will Membership be told about the results of such a study and if so, when? If not, why not? When will the Merger vote occur, and will membership have any input before being asked to ratify? Who is on these G1 committees anyway, and why were they chosen to write this next chapter in our collective history? My excitement over seeing a smart, well-crafted Merger pass with flying colors is somewhat dampened by the extent of the confidentiality constraints around the process itself. These protocols make it difficult for me to substantively answer most of your questions, much as I'd like to assuage your fears and allay your concerns. As I said before, in many cases I myself am not privy to much of that information, and if I was I couldn't share it with you anyway.

What I can tell you is this: though the G1 is currently on target to deliver Merger documents to the Board in January 2012, details will be hammered out until the eleventh hour.  Once the documents are delivered, the Board will examine the plan with the diligence Membership deserves. I can't speak to the dues structure, the existence of a plan for Merged P&H plans or whether or not a Feasibility study will be undertaken. I can't tell you who the chairs of the G1 committees are. I can't tell you how the vote for Merger will be structured. I can't tell you exactly when the vote will occur. I can't tell you why, in some cases, I'm not allowed to tell you.

I can report that the NY Board feels confident that your concerns and questions have been sufficiently aired during the two listening tours provided to the NY Membership (if you were able to attend the open one and/or lucky enough to receive an invitation to the other.) In no way should this be construed to mean that Membership is now locked out of the Merger process--to the contrary, I'm happy to share with you an email address that has been provided to Members who feel they have something to add or who have pressing questions: (I wasn't told who will be monitoring or answering your emails but I was assured they will be received.) Another recourse open to Membership is the NY Board itself--you can communicate with any of us and we will relay your comments to the appropriate person on the G1 (even if we can't tell you who that is!) I hope these two avenues of expression will comfort those who of you who fear you are not being included in building your new Union from the foundation up.

An early 2012 vote would be a fine thing--if indeed the G1 can cross its t's and dot its i's, and if the Local and National boards have ample time to debate and discuss the many provisions the Merger documents will no doubt contain. If it becomes clear , however, that blind adherence to the January projection is detrimental to crafting a successful Merger--if the tail begins to wag the dog-- than I suggest we slow down and take the time this process deserves. I feel confident that most members would agree. Merger is like a marriage: A shotgun wedding can spell disaster for an ill-equipped couple, and unruly guests might interrupt the ceremony shouting "We object!" On the other hand, a long engagement can be used wisely to plan the details of a happy and healthy life together, supported by a wide group of family and friends. I know which relationship I'm betting on, and I know which one I'd vote for.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sweet Dreams and The New "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Phoebe Jonas here, reporting from the front lines of Board Service, making good on One.Strong.Union's promise to deliver transparency and accountability from your Board Members.

Our first Board Meeting of the new term occurred on Monday Oct 3rd. I was wary of the sentiments of those in the room against whom I had campaigned, but on most accounts I was welcomed warmly.

In truth, the meeting felt a little lackluster--Merger is the name of the game (more on that in a minute) and there's a bit of a lame-duck feeling in the room, as if the REAL work can't be done until Merger is achieved, and we're just biding our time until that happens. I hope that that we can function as a proactive and energized board while the G1 attends to the unruly task of shaping--or attempting to shape--Merger. With so few of your board members participating in the G1, there's no reason to be in a "holding pattern."

The approval of NY's local committee chairs, an important event that happens at the beginning of every board term, was mostly achieved by acclamation - in other words by rubber stamp, and with little to no discussion--rather than a roll call. We received a confidential report on the Pension & Health plans from National Executive Director and trustee, David White.

One noteworthy exception to the somnambulant feeling in room (one Board member was actually asleep for most of the meeting) was during the vote for your NEC representatives. The National Executive Committee conducts vital business between the quarterly meetings of the full board. NY has 4 seats on the NEC. As a stand in for the elected board, the NEC should resemble, as closely as possible, the political make-up of the full board. While they were not obligated to do so, it was an opportunity for Hodge and USAN to recognize in their NEC choices that the over-2000 SAG members who voted for OSU deserve representation on this important body.  Instead, the lone OSU supporter on the NEC, who had served on the NEC for many years, was removed from her seat without explanation. I was reminded of Mike Hodge's comment in the latest issue of Backstage-- "I do not believe in being punitive....I don't think that it serves a purpose. I think as long as you show a good-faith effort to do the job at hand, then we can move forward...” I couldn't help but question Hodge and USAN's true intentions in removing the only OSU supporter from the NEC and therefore disenfranchising thousands of SAG members.

But onwards! Next stop, Merger. I don't know about you guys, but this pro-Merger Board Member and dual card-holder is getting a little tired of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy being exposed by our Union's leadership. As in, you don't ask any questions about what Merger is going to look like, and we won't tell you any answers, especially when it comes to our Pension and Health plans! In light of escalating health care costs, unprecedented increases in eligibility and contributions, pending lawsuits and allegations of impropriety, I find it deeply concerning that Members of both AFTRA and SAG boards repeatedly "assure" me that rank and file membership will "simply have to trust us" and that no substantial information on the potential structure of the new union's P&H plans can be provided prior to the referendum.

In other words, you will be asked to put your entire financial future--and that of your family--in the hands of people who are not willing to put that vital information in yours. It's disrespectful, it's dishonest, and it fails to meet the basic fiduciary responsibility of the SAG Board to it's members. As a member of the NY-SAG Board, and as a member of OSU, I will do everything in my power to ensure that your YES vote on Merger stands on the firm foundation of due financial diligence that you deserve. Many of YOU have shared with me the same concern - and I welcome more feedback --  I will make sure you are heard.

SAG will hold a National Board Plenary in Los Angeles this weekend, Oct 22-23. I won't be attending as I am a local board member, not a national board member. One of your OSU representatives will provide you with a full report post-plenary.

Stay informed,
Phoebe Jonas

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Only Just Begun...


With your help, One.Strong.Union. has become an important movement that will continue to demand accountability from our NY SAG Board. Would we have liked to have gained more board seats in the election? Of course. But we always knew this was a David vs. Goliath battle, and we’re proud of what we accomplished. O.S.U. candidates landed an overall average of 40% of the votes cast in this election. Not too shabby for a movement that took formal shape only two months ago. We congratulate the O.S.U. candidates elected: Sam Robards, Matt Servitto and Phoebe Jonas.

Your One.Strong.Union. representatives look forward to working with USAN, and with all the members of the SAG Board, nationwide, to bring you effective representation and a successful merger. The four pillars of O.S.U.'s promise to you, the members, are that we will be transparent, inclusive, forward-looking and collaborative board members, committee chairs and committee members. We are hopeful that Mike Hodge and USAN will join O.S.U. in that promise, as they declared they would during the campaign.

The first NY Board meeting will be next Monday, Oct 3rd. Committee appointments will be made by the board at this meeting. This is your chance to get involved! Fill out a New York Division Committee Service Request Form at  Stay tuned. O.S.U. promises to keep you informed. 

Rather than clog your inbox, we’ll be posting regular updates on our Facebook page and we hope you’ll visit often to catch up. If you have any questions or concerns, please email us at - we want to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

SAG National Board Member - RBD, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Endorses ONE.STRONG.UNION.

“The way to win the future is to have diverse voices, fresh eyes, intelligent discourse, and experienced opinions in every facet of the evolution of our unions. I think the One.Strong.Union. candidates represent our best chance to have that. They kick ass, which is why I am supporting their candidacies. I know and respect them all, and cannot wait to get to work with them, to build our future.”
– Holter Graham, NY Actor, dual card member


For many years I've supported USAN slate, and in fact had a hand in its formation. But times, goals and groups change, and I have grown uncomfortable with USAN's leadership style, finding it too exclusive; too opaque in its leadership; too determined to quell free speech and opinion, and too inwardly-focused to be genuinely service-oriented, as good union officers and a healthy board must be.

That's why I support the group of SAG members running as independents under the banner of One.Strong.Union., or O.S.U., and why I'm writing you today.

Thanks for taking time with my thoughts.

Great question! The NY Division makes up just over 25% of the SAG National Board (Hollywood makes up about 50%, and the Regional Branch Division – the RBD – just under 25%). It brings tremendous influence to SAG policymaking, and to the work of merger. As a member of the RBD, it's important that I can count on my fellow Divisions to respect and support my Division and its needs, and to act in integrity in all union matters. The incumbent union members running under the O.S.U. banner have already demonstrated this support and integrity, with the bright newcomers to board service that complete the O.S.U. team pledging to do the same.

And remember, when an opposing political party from the Hollywood Division held the majority on the national board, members of the board from all Divisions put their shoulders to the wheel to affect change in that Division, with members of USAN as leaders in that effort. Further, so long as members of the Hollywood Division are listed as endorsers on USAN's website, members of all Divisions have a right to comment on this campaign. Lastly, it's everyone's right, in a democracy, to the free expression his or her opinion.

So to attack any member's comments based on zip code simply affirms a disregard for democracy.

I serve on a *national board* comprised of three interdependent Divisions, and I trust O.S.U. to partner with my Division to support the union today, and tomorrow – for the work they will do for you in NY, and alongside us nationwide.

I'm especially excited by this. These 10 candidates – incumbents Sam Robards, Matt Servitto, Joe Narciso, Justin Barrett, Andrew Dolan, along with Corey Anker, Kelly Deadmon, Jeff Gurner, Phoebe Jonas and Gy Mirano – came to O.S.U. from many avenues. Some are former members of the USAN slate, who left it to run with O.S.U. Others were selected by the Nom Comm, yet chose to join O.S.U. Still others are candidates running on their own with years of committee experience, who elected to be a part of O.S.U.

Diverse perspectives, allied under the common goal of transparent, inclusive leadership. This is a team that recognizes and honors an entire spectrum of ideas and opinions; that values healthy debate; that deliberately avoids monolithic platforms – a powerful blend of longtime experience in the boardroom invigorated with fresh perspectives.
That makes this team adroit, adaptive, and responsive to the challenges facing us all.

With O.S.U., that's exactly what you have – with a bonus. Nearly half the team are incumbents – SAG/AFTRA dual cardholding board members with a track record of working on merger. The remaining O.S.U. candidates – also dual cardholders – stand ready to contribute their new ideas, energy, and creative solutions to the merger challenge.

Here’s the math: O.S.U. – 10 candidates, 5 incumbents + 5 bright newcomers. Five of these were Nom Com picks. So of the 10, 7 are either incumbent, Nom Com recommendations, or both. ALL have extensive committee experience. USAN – 10 candidates. Nine are either incumbent, or Nom Com – sometimes both, but not always. “Celebrity candidate” Lewis Black is not an incumbent, not a Nom Com choice, and has no committee experience.

Actually, several O.S.U. candidates were picked by the Nom Com, but felt that USAN had drifted away from its roots, and declined USAN's invitation to run with them. As one O.S.U.-er put it, "I interviewed both members running for president. Twice. Sam Robards is my president. That's why I'm running with O.S.U."

That candidate turned down USAN's invitation to join its slate to run with O.S.U., and the same is true for all other O.S.U. Nom Com picks.

O.S.U.’s Four Pillars detail the differences, and you’ll be hearing more about specific programs in the next day or so. Here they are, taken from O.S.U. literature:

TRANSPARENT – O.S.U. believes that policy is discussed openly in the boardroom, not whispered in back halls. And we believe in inviting your voice into the conversation, and sharing the results of our work, whether progress reports for on-going efforts, or the final results of concluded business, with you, the member.

INCLUSIVE – O.S.U. believes that a healthy board is a board that encourages diversity: of kind of performer and contracts worked; of philosophy and political view. We believe that from vigorous debate comes best solution; from synergy of strengths comes the most powerful entity. And we believe in including you, the member, in the process of shaping the future of Screen Actors Guild, and the NY Division as we move toward merger. That means increasing board member outreach, and member participation.

FORWARD-LOOKING – The O.S.U. team is made up of NY SAG board incumbents and bright young actors hard at work in New Media. Our perspective is both historical, with a strong understanding of our union’s history, and future-facing, with an up-to-the-minute understanding of the technology shaping our professional world. We will put our expertise to the work of crafting a powerful contract that achieves fair wages for today – and tomorrow.

COLLABORATIVE – This may be our favorite pillar. O.S.U. seeks partnerships with AFTRA and other industry allies. We celebrate diverse opinions, and thrive on rigorous analysis and spirited debate. We believe true collaboration is about hearing all voices, examining all ideas, including all partners… and in not leaving the table until we’ve reached consensus. That means, all stakeholders have a share in solution – and that means everyone is dedicated to success.

O.S.U. IS the “same guys” you voted for last time! The group is made up of incumbents, Nom Com picks and candidates rich with committee experience.

O.S.U. is in favor of merging ALL members of SAG & AFTRA into one union, but differs from USAN in how we get there. O.S.U. believes the members' voices need to be heard in this process. Really heard: It wants board members and rank-and-file from all contracts and all political persuasions on merger committees. It wants NY members to contribute their ideas not just at membership meetings but at frequent, open, town hall meetings, and through "suggestion boxes" on the SAG website. O.S.U. also wants regular progress reports to go out to the members via email, and online video, so you can monitor progress and continue to participate – not just vote merger "up or down" in a ballot.

O.S.U. is dedicated to merging SAG and AFTRA, and believes the way to do it is through an open process that involves all of us.

And remember: voters can't "just vote for the incumbent party" because both parties are made up of incumbents. The difference is, O.S.U. believes merger can be successfully passed only if we learn the lessons of the earlier efforts. It's the only way to avoid merger failing as it did twice before.

Broader board room diversity; open New Union discussions and reports; better board-member communication; effective member outreach and education; powerful intra-union partnerships; New Media and Interactive preparation; Spanish language organizing; Background Performer career development; an expanded PWD program… and more, which you’ll be reading about in great detail soon.

Thanks for taking the time to consider a fellow national board member’s opinion on this election – it matters to all Divisions, regardless of one USANer’s published insistence that folks from other regions don’t have a right to an opinion on the subject.

As you can see, I feel strongly that One.Strong.Union. is the team to take the NY Division of Screen Actors Guild into the future, alongside the Regional Branch and Hollywood Divisions. I hope you'll take time to visit them on Facebook at One.Strong.Union. and cruise to their website for more information:

In Solidarity,

Mary McDonald-Lewis

National Board Member, SAG
Regional Branch Division

Monday, August 29, 2011

OSU Candidate, Jeff Gurner, On Organizing The Next Generation of SAG Members

OSU Candidate, Justin Barrett, Responds To Richard Masur on Facebook

Richard Masur writes: This year a small group of disaffected SAG National Board members and Alternates who owe their incumbent status to USAN, have decided that they haven't gotten their way in the Board room, because "something is wrong". So they've mounted a counter slate. Please DO NOT BE FOOLED. They are doing this because of personality not policy conflicts. The proof is they cannot define a single policy on which they differ from USAN's. 

Well, there it is, out in the open.  This is the language those of us on NY Board have become accustomed to. Mr Masur's statement helps to shine a light on the absurdity of what seems to be, historically, the commonplace practice of many SAG Board Members and their supporters when they are challenged.  The claim, when they are threatened, is many times "this one or that one doesn't like me" or "they hate us" - that's why they're doing this.  It couldn't possibly be that they have a different point of view worthy of respect or examination.  This latest threat to the common good has taken the fearsome shape of unobstructed democracy.  Mercy... how terrifying.  The strategy of devaluing a differing opinion you feel threatened by is recognizable to me.  I remember having seen it during the first Bush administration, when Karl Rove was running domestic policy in our country.  The President himself was not capable of doing the job of leading the country, so an intelligent advisor was really at the helm.  

The proof Mr. Masur offers is as hollow as the policy of discrediting any who disagree with him.  Anyone who has read the literature that OSU has put out can tell there are in fact lots of substantive differences between these two groups, but the most important, is perhaps in the way we would choose to lead.  A true meritocracy is a system in which leadership candidates or policy decisions are evaluated based on qualifications and objective intellectual criteria. The NY SAG Board currently does not function this way. It should, but it doesn't and this ain't good news folks. For merger to be the best it can, for us to stay relevant in a new century with New Media, we will need to operate in the most professional manner possible.  

Here is why I am running with OSU this year.  I have zero political ambitions and I don't care what party or individual gets the credit for merger or successful contract negotiations.  I care even less for the personal politics that always seem to invade what should be straight business affairs of the Guild.  I don't have first hand knowledge about the political difficulty with MF and USAN and UFS over the years nor do I know well or care about the players in that drama.  The reason I serve the Guild is that my family of five is dependent upon the future integrity of our contracts.  There is nothing more important to me on the planet  than the well being of my children.  I care about business and money.  Who could honestly believe that I would allow the fleeting and absurd personality issues of a group of actors to effect my decisions about that?    

Richard Masur has been fond of saying outside of the boardroom that he does not care what the merger looks like as long as it happens - that's just not good enough for me.  This is an insanely complicated effort upon which the fortunes of over a hundred thousand people lie.  If it's not good enough for you either, then vote OSU.