The sun was setting in Alan Rosenberg’s sitting room at his home in Santa Monica on Wednesday, as he considered the state of his life two days after an internal coup ousted his hand-chosen negotiator, Doug Allen. He’d been writing a song about the union, and sang it for TheWrap. (Hear the song, or read the lyrics.)
“My life sucks,” Rosenberg, the president of the Screen Actors Guild, acknowledged. “Here I am – my partner was fired. I’m muzzled. It’s certainly disappointing. I’ve seen all my hard work of the past three and a half years amounting to nothing. The liars and manipulators have won.”
He was speaking about his fellow unionists, of course, not about his opponents in the contract talks.(He has also split recently with his wife, actress Marg Helgenberger.) In a 90-minute talk about what went wrong this week and what has gone wrong in the past seven months of negotiations, Rosenberg blamed the lack of a deal on those who opposed him and who now control the fate of negotiations.
And he continued to defend the ousted national executive director, Doug Allen, lauding him as “extraordinary” and “the best thing that’s ever happened to our union.”
“Yeah, I’m angry,” he said. “Sad. Disappointed. The last two days I feel sort of isolated. I’m shut out from planning meetings. I feel isolated from the operations of the union.”
Indeed he is. Within a few hours Rosenberg’s replacements at SAG and counterparts at the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers jointly announced two days of meetings on Feb. 3 and 4 in Sherman Oaks.
When asked why he considered Allen so extraordinary, Rosenberg said he and Allen had been willing “to move mountains” to get a deal with the studios, but the studios would not move an inch, while his negotiator was undermined by the moderate factions in New York and Los Angeles.
“How do you get anything done when 48% of your board is going to trash you in the press?” he asked.
Rosenberg said he has been buoyed by a flood of emails of support, but encounters angry guild members when he goes to auditions. Their anger confuses him, he said. “Why are people angry at us when everyone knows it’s a bad deal?” “We did something wrong because we continue to fight?”
The fact that the economy is in recession is no reason to take a bad deal, he said, which gave no concessions on residuals for new media. “People talk about the economy, but you don’t abdicate your responsibility,” he said. “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
Rosenberg admitted that he “did a little filibustering” at a contentious, 28-hour meeting on Jan 12 and 13, where moderates tried to oust Allen. But he insisted he followed the rules, and drew out the meeting to defend an unjustly targeted Allen. “I was not going to allow a man as extraordinary as he is, who has done so much for the membership, be scapegoated in a kangaroo court.”
Rosenberg remains convinced that a solid strike action could have gotten the movie and television companies to improve the $250 million offer that has been on the table since the summer. But the lack of solidarity made it impossible.
“If we really had the ability to shut down the town, of course it could be effective,” he said. “Everything this union has ever gotten has been because of a strike, or the threat of a strike.”
In truth, “our board would never have gone out to strike, even with a strike authorization vote,” he observed. His opponents, he said, deliberately sabotaged talks with a federal mediator, saying they would support the negotiations, but then criticizing Allen in the media. (Read the response from Richard Masur.)
“Actors are frightened little children,” he said. “They’re always afraid of not getting the next job, afraid of interrupting the flow. ‘One for all’ is anathema to many actors, because they’re always competing.”
Isolated as he is, Rosenberg said he would not consider stepping down from the presidency of the guild. “Why would I leave?” he asked. “I’m not going to abandon the people who elected me.”
As for his next move? Rosenberg said he may try to rally 10,000 votes on a petition to rescind the board action against Allen. But he didn’t seem very enthused about the prospect, slumping back in a rattan chair as he offered the possibility.
“I’m sure we could get the 10,000,” he said. “But I don’t know if it’s practical.
The union, he said, is eternally divided by those who consider SAG a guild and oppose collective strike action, and those who consider it a labor union like any other. In fact SAG is highly unusual as labor unions go, with 120,000 members, the vast majority of whom are out of work at any given time, and with a tiny number of members who make the lion’s share of revenues.
“Even if I turn out to be wrong about the impact of new media, and the future for actors,” he said, “I always knew my motives were pure. My heart is pure.”
UPDATE FROM RICHARD MASUR:
In his interview with you Alan Rosenberg says that --
"... he may try to rally 10,000 votes on a petition to rescind the board action against Allen. But he didn't seem very enthused about the prospect, slumping back in a rattan chair as he offered the possibility."
"'I'm sure we could get the 10,000," he said. "But I don't know if it's practical.'"
Please refer to the citation below, from the SAG Constitution. It clearly states that you need the signatures of 10% of the membership (10% of 120K is 12K, NOT 10K) " to require that a referendum challenging the Board's action be sent to the members . So, having gotten 12K members to sign, he would then need to get a significantly greater number to vote to rescind the Board's action (and un-terminate Doug Allen, one assumes?), in order to pass the referendum and re-hire Mr. Allen..
One of his problems as President has been that he really has no understanding of the Constitution, or rules, or most details of what he talks about. He just says whatever comes into his head and believes that if he says it, it must be true. Well, mostly it's not. This is one small example.
Article X, Section 2. The membership may obtain a referendum vote challenging any action of the Board of Directors which is national in scope, provided that the demand for a referendum vote is accompanied by a written signed petition, on an approved Guild form, bearing the signature of ten percent (10%) of the membership in good standing.
(A.) Those members seeking a referendum vote must advise the Guild in advance of their intentions to seek a referendum vote.
(B.) When so advised, the Guild shall calculate the number of signatures required to support a petition signed by ten percent (10%) of the members in good standing, and shall thereinafter supply petitioning parties with an approved Guild petition form, on which the Guild has affixed its calculation as to the number of signatures which must be obtained.
(C.) All petitions solicited by the membership for purposes of obtaining such a referendum vote shall be valid for only six (6) months following the date on which the Guild issued its approved petition form to the petitioning parties.
(D.) The Board of Directors shall upon submission of a properly validated petition, order a referendum vote by mail of the membership.
(E.) Any action of the Board of Directors may be nullified or amended by such referendum by a majority vote of those members voting thereon.
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