Putting voting to vote

A petition to change the elective process for the Writers Guild of America West has gotten 233 signatures and will likely be on the union’s ballot in the next election.

Among those who signed the petition are seven current and 17 former board members.

Several members recently drew up the petition–called the Informed Voters Amendment–in reaction to being called on last fall to vote on changes to the guild’s constitution after what they perceived to be an inadequate amount of time and information given.

Others criticized a lack of pro-and-con info about the validity of the constitutional changes, which were overwhelmingly approved Sept. 17 by the 16% of the membership who voted.

The Informed Voters Amendment would mandate beginning the information process on new amendments five months before ballots are mailed.

“In free elections, newspapers and television inform all of us months in advance,” said former board member Beth Sullivan. “Voters may or may not choose to avail themselves of these opportunities, but the information is there should they wish to use it.”

The proposal also calls for pro-and-con statements to be included in voter information packages.

“We were told it was not a mandatory requirement in the constitution, that it was not necessary given the unanimous support of the board,” said member and proposition proponent Larry Gelbart. “Then, when guild members complained, they had the audacity to say no one presented a con statement. How could anyone write a con statement without knowing they were in opposition until it was too late to submit one?”

According to its backers, the proposal is designed to allow members to give input on amendments to the union’s board. The board, in turn, would need a final amendment package ready for the members two months before ballots are mailed.

The amendment would also set up a series of informational meetings and debates in the month before an election.

“It’s a know-nothing amendment that is the product of the hysterical fundamentalist fringe within the Guild,” board member John Riley said. “For one thing, it forbids any staff members that we pay so much money to employ from commenting on proposed amendments to the constitution. Our own attorneys would be barred from calling it to the attention of members if a (member-driven) amendment was contrary to U.S. labor law.”

Board member Michael Russnow called Riley’s charges “nonsense.”

“All board-proposed amendments certainly will have the input of staff and lawyers before they’re nominated by the board,” Russnow said. “This proposal would affect the electoral process from that point on.” Even in the case of petition-driven amendments (requiring 150 signatures), which have not had the benefit of staff or lawyer review, any member of the Guild would be free to write pro or con statements. It would give the membership the benefit of all points of view.”

Part of the criticism last fall was that the voter process had been hurried along because the amendments had already received the board of directors’ unanimous approval.

While this proposal would allow any member to introduce pro or con statements , the staff or its exec director would not have that privilege.

In this last election, guild members first received the amendments to the constitution on the union’s electronic bulletin board board Aug. 11. A summary of changes was mailed on Aug. 17 and ballots were to be returned by Sept. 16.

Forty-one members tried to slow down the voting process last September, asking the board to postpone the vote on the constitutional amendments. Yet the board nixed that appeal.

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