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.