English returns ACLU award

Diane English has returned her Torch of Liberty award to the American Civil Liberties Union, apparently in anger over a letter the ACLU sent to the National Labor Relations Board last December concerning a union dispute on the set of her sitcom “Love and War.”

While ACLU officials refused to comment on the matter, sources told Daily Variety that English fired off a scathing letter to ACLU officials to accompany the returned award.

Late yesterday, officials from English’s company Love and War Prods. said “On Jan. 15, 1993, the National Labor Relations Board notified Love and War Prods. Inc. that after a lengthy and thorough investigation, the charge against the company had been dismissed and that no further investigation was warranted. We have no reason to believe the appeal will yield any different finding.” They had no other response.

The award was given to English in August 1992, but the producer did not attend the ACLU event because the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees allegedly had threatened to set up informational pickets outside the ceremony. English’s representatives have always contended that the union had threatened to disrupt the event.

English had been embroiled in a fight with IA officials before receiving the award because her company did not draw up a union contract for below-the-line crew members on “Love and War.”

Meanwhile, the IA has filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., disputing a decision last January by the org’s L.A. office to not pursue a complaint of union-busting on “Love and War.”

In the IA’s appeal, union officials said the NLRB’s earlier decision to not pursue charges, in effect, sanctioned a lock-out of union members on the “Love and War” set.

Not surprisingly, the ACLU has always been caught in a precarious position in this fight. The org, a known proponent for labor causes, awarded English the Torch of Liberty for her stance on women’s and civil liberty issues, not knowing of the producer’s union imbroglio.

When ACLU officials discovered that the NLRB was going to dismiss the IA’s charges, filed by Arthur Blaisdell on behalf of 15 former employees who worked on the pilot of “Love and War,” they sent a letter to NLRB officials.

In the letter, dated Dec. 4, 1992, ACLU executive director Ramona Ripston said that while the org had taken no position on the merits of the IA’s complaints, the ACLU was nonetheless concerned “that the investigation of the complaint” was not adequate to ensure that the charges were given a “fair hearing and resolution.”

The letter urged the NLRB to “ensure that there has been a thorough, comprehensive and careful investigation of all of the factual issues involved in this controversy.”

Sources said that when English found out about the letter, she angrily returned the award.

In its appeal to the NLRB’s D.C. headquarters, the union pointed out that John Whitman, the production executive on the show, “repeatedly told pilot crew members that the show was going to be non-union; told one applicant that he would prefer to use non-union people; and gave non-union members the opportunity to work while the union crew was locked out.”

Union officials have said that the L.A. office of the NLRB’s investigation was “terribly inadequate.”

The union appeal said, “A comparison of the crew list between the pilot and the working crew showed that there were 18 individuals from the pilot hired for the series. Of those hired, 10 were not union members and another four that are union members are actually employed by companies other than Shukovsky English to perform services for the ‘Love and War’ production.”

In the past, “Love and War” officials have contended that the company is doing what is best for its employees. They said they recently offered employees a health and dental plan, along with life insurance and disability.

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