10/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Acting Like Change Is at Hand

Yesterday brought exciting news for many Screen Actor Guild members who voted to elect candidates endorsed by and representing our interests who banded together to form the group Unite for Strength and to unseat board members affiliated with the faction known as Membership First. This vote for change could be seen as a mirror for the disaffection of labor nationwide.

Like working people in every sector of the economy, as middle income actors, whose ranks make up the majority of the constituency of working members of our unions, we find ourselves earning less than ever while at the same time stars are receiving higher and higher compensation for their work. This industry trend, referred to as salary compression, is much the same as pay rates in other American industries in which CEO pay to average worker has soared to unprecedented levels hovering at 400 to 1 and like the rest of the population only the top percent of our membership has seen their wages grow, while the rest of us have stagnant or falling earnings.

I myself hold dual membership in both SAG and AFTRA and like many working SAG members who supported the vote for merger with our sister union in 2003, I have found the current friction between leadership a source of frustration, disappointment and a distraction from accomplishing the goals that unite members from opposing points of views. Our current board and negotiating team which has led us into a protracted stalemate with our employers, the AMPTP, includes many who also campaigned against the merge, a move that Unite for Strength candidates, and I, believe represents our only hope of regaining any standing in the negotiating process. The election results reflect a vote for change, yet our leaders don't seem to want to recognize this.

Yesterday, the union released a statement to members and the press with the headline, "SAG MEMBERS SUPPORT NEGOTIATING TEAM 87.27% SAY NO WAY TO THE AMPTP'S JUNE 30 OFFER". Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg stated, "I am encouraged to see that members-at-large agree with the strategy of the national board and their national negotiating committee." This supposed vote of support was gleaned from a postcard mailing poll and only in small print was it noted that the postcard had a return rate of less than 10% of the membership. Hardly a ringing endorsement of leadership.

Furthermore, the release stated that members had voted "To support the negotiating team to get the very best contract possible for our membership." Sure, I would love for them to get better contract. I'd like a pill that would let me lose 10 pounds in a week, a face crème that takes 5 years off my face and I'd like to wake up and find out I had cashed out of the market this time last year so my pension plan wouldn't have hit the skids yesterday, but that's not going to happen either.

Many of us are pragmatist and feel leadership's stand-off with the AMPTP is only making our prospects for a better contract worsen. We saw the same thing happen when they failed to negotiate a contract with the Franchised Talent Agencies and seven years later we are, in fact, still working without a contract. As our health care and pension benefits are linked to our employment, are contracts are not that much different than those settled upon by UAW, and we've seen the kinds of concessions those unions have had to make.

The timing of the results of the postcard poll, in my opinion, were designed to distract from the news of the election in which the Unite for Strength slate took 6 of 11 Board seats and 13 of 22 alternate seats.

For the past eight years, despite failed policies, those of us hankering for change have been unable to unite factions within the union to mandate a change in leadership.

I, for one, hope these election results will bring about improved relations with our sister union and bring us closer to resolution with the AMPTP. Perhaps this relatively small labor action might be something of model for what we'll see in our national election. I hope so.