Friday, August 12, 2011

O.S.U. Candidate Corey Anker From The AFTRA Publication STANDBY NY Vol. 42, No. 3.

"What are you gonna ask for next Gene, the Moon?"  Gene was Eugene Cernan, a successful astronaut in the late 60's and early 70's who received his degree, in electrical engineering, from Purdue University.  But this was 1992, on the set of a national network on-camera spot for the Big Ten, and Captain Cernan was being played by Gabe Mann.  I was the one asking the question, in the role of one of two friends accompanying the then high-school-aged future astronaut.  We were in Liberty State Park, on the other side of the Hudson, sitting on the hood of some old-fashioned cars, staring up at the star-filled sky.  And with that, so began my union cardholder days -- the first being that for the Screen Actors Guild.  I myself graduated high school at the end of that year and went on to college, and actually in the Big Ten but not at Purdue.  While I didn't study electrical engineering or become an astronaut, I did continue to pay my dues, despite the fact that I wasn't planning to work for most of the next four years.  Something told me to keep paying what at that time was about fifty bucks semi-annually -- that it would be worth it at some point.

Fast-forward to 2001.  After getting a degree in Film and Video Studies from the University of Michigan, working in various other aspects of the industry and finally getting back to the creative side, I got an agent and found my way into the voice over arena.  Hello radio; hello AFTRA.  At that point I've been a member of SAG for about nine years and was now a dual cardholder; and yet it took another eight years for me to "show up."  Don't get me wrong.  I was aware of the unions -- I always voted when asked (in the form of the mailings I received).  I especially appreciated the extra money that would come in the event that late fees were secured.  But as for all of the inner workings of the various cogs and how they fit together, that wasn't for me.  I just took it for granted.  I knew that at any time I could pick up the phone and complain if necessary and someone would be there to not only listen but most likely be of assistance.  And it was true.
Again fast forward -- this time to November of 2008.  A friend of mine whom I know from the voice over circuit had recently moved into my building.  She is smart, funny and most importantly usually very busy professionally.  So when we ran into each other in the lobby, and she told me about the W&W (wages and working conditions) Caucus that she was heading to and did I want to join her, I figured there were worse ways for me to spend a couple of hours.

My first meeting was interesting from the start, and noteworthy for two things.  Firstly, the passion was palpable.  Not only were the faces familiar, they truly cared about what was going on and they were determined to do something about it.  Secondly, there was a sense of great openness.  I felt that I was quite welcome, not only to listen and observe, but also to add my two cents.  For the first time, I realized that I didn't have to stand outside the machine.  I could get involved and take my shot at having some impact on the outcome of circumstances that were unmistakingly affecting me and my career.

That meeting was open to all members of the unions who were in good standing and up to date with their dues.  I must have said something worthwhile that day because at its end I was approached by a few of the long-standing players and asked if I would be interested in attending the next stage of the process -- the W&W Plenary.  After the caucus meetings would wrap up in December, this next chapter was to take place at the Westin Hotel in January of this year.  Yes, I was most certainly interested.
The plenary raised the stakes and also brought to town the contingent from the other coast.  For the first time, I was able to meet and exchange ideas with those who worked in the same industry but who, in some areas, had a different take on the matters at hand.  I was honored to occupy one of the seats at the "big table," and it was big.  I listened and I watched as opposing passions articulated their viewpoints.  But there was an unrelenting desire to accomplish the common goals -- to sort out the points of greatest importance and to literally choose our battles.  There were a few tense moments but we hummed along, and when we got to the topic of new media an amazing thing happened.  Experience went up against insight.  Some of the veterans were convinced that they knew the way to go.  However, myself, along with a small group of younger performers realized that the future may not play out as the past had.  There was a degree of uncertainty.  Time would tell but we might need to go another way, and we definitely wanted to tread carefully so as to make sure we accomplished what made the most sense.  At first the "experience" side fought.  But we made our case, and incredibly they came around to our understanding.  From then on, we were dubbed "the Futurists," and I felt we earned at least a couple stripes that day.  I was very proud to be in that room and at that table.
Clearly, there was already a lot going on.  Amazingly however, these were simply the preliminary rounds.  The momentum was building and early February brought the approval of the proposals by the joint national boards.  About ten days later, we exchanged them with the industry side and one week after that, it was time to go to bat.
On February 23rd, formal negotiations began.  At about 5am on the morning of April 1st, they concluded.  To say that a lot transpired In those approximately thirty-seven days would be a tremendous understatement.  For the sake of brevity, if it's not already too late, I will simply say this:  I was very fortunate to both witness and participate in an amazing process.  I saw the good, the bad and the not so much ugly, but there were certainly some tough moments.  I saw New York and Los Angeles come together, in solidarity, in ways I was told had previously not occurred.  I saw passion, honesty and dedication.  I made new friends and gained respect for others (even on the industry side) while, I believe, earning a little for myself.  And I gained an education I had previously been lacking.  Thanks to a very long list of upstanding union members, we fought hard for all of our rights to keep working in this business in a way that can help support ourselves and our families.  Despite a tough economy and a tough group on the other side of the table, we accomplished much of what we set out to do.  At a time when corporate America was downsizing, and in some arenas actually collapsing, we achieved a pay raise and a lot more.
There are too many people to mention, and everyone worked hard, but I would be remiss if I did not call out the particular dedication and tireless efforts of our co-chairs Roberta Reardon and Sue-Anne Morrow, the attention to detail by Ray Rodriguez, the remarkable work of Mathis Dunn and the unmatched support of the entire union staff.  Being both liason between our side and industry, and educator, clarifier and at times even peacemaker for our group as a whole, words cannot do justice to what was literally brought to the table by our lead negotiator John McGuire.
As for the feeling at 5am on that early April morning, as we rubbed celebratory elbows with ourseIves and the other side, it was really sweet -- an experience I will not soon forget.  I am so proud to have been even a small part of this incredible process, and I strongly encourage all union members to get involved in whatever way you can moving forward.
Remember, with every effort you contribute to giving back, you are really giving right to yourself.