Labor clears WGA leaders

Complaints of bylaw, constitution violations dismissed

The Dept. of Labor has dismissed a complaint filed by members of the Writers Guild of America West who accused union leaders of illegalities in the conduct of the September 1997 board election.

The complaint, filed by Michael Russnow, Larry Gelbart and 93 other members, said the union’s constitution and bylaws had been violated in the election, and cited seven allegations. It said, among other things, that the union sowed confusion by putting the contract vote and the officers’ election in the same ballot package, and that guild leaders spent guild funds to support candidates who favored ratification of the proposed contract with producers.

Labor investigators disagreed. Among its findings:

  • The officer elections and the contract vote were combined because of delays in the contract negotiations; the contract did not become ready for submission to members until August, and the earliest vote on ratification would have been only a week before the Sept. 18 officer election.

  • “ER” exec producer John Wells, the eventual winner of the guild’s vice presidency, did not commit a violation when he sent a letter to members supporting contract ratification. Complainants had alleged that, as an employer, Wells should not have been campaigning. But Labor found that Wells is an employee of Warner Bros., which owns “ER.”

  • WGAW exec director Brian Walton, recently dismissed, was accused of using union funds to promote endorsement of the contract in a postcard to members. But there was no statement “that encouraged or suggested that members should vote for any candidate based on their position on contract ratification.”

  • As to a complaint that procedures for counting ballots lacked adequate safeguards to determine accuracy, Labor acknowledged “minor difficulties” with the vote-counting machine and “minor differences” between the guild’s count and a recount conducted by an accounting firm. But the differences did not affect the election overall and there was “no evidence of ballot tampering.”
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