Screen Actors Guild prexy William Daniels is taking a cautious approach to finding a replacement for Ken Orsatti, who announced two weeks ago that he will retire as the union’s national executive director Jan. 15.
Daniels has started laying the groundwork for formation of a search committee to seek a successor for Orsatti, but that process is unlikely to be concluded for at least a month. He plans to present his recommendations about how that committee should proceed to the western section of SAG’s national board at a Dec. 11 meeting.
Daniels, in a letter sent last week to presidents of SAG’s branches, promised that the search committee will contain reps from Hollywood and the branches, and that the findings of the panel would go to the full national board for a final decision. Daniels noted that he had sent the letter in response to the “many unfounded rumors” about the formation of a search committee.
“Any rumors inferring that I have contracted anyone regarding being hired for the executive director position are patently false,” he said in the letter.
SAG is facing major challenges in replacing Orsatti and its No. 2 exec, associate national executive director and chief negotiator John McGuire, who has said he wants a less time-consuming post if he is to remain with the union.
The guild is facing tough upcoming negotiations with studios and networks over the theatrical-TV contract, which expires June 30; and its talks with talent agents over a revised operating agreement fell apart last week with no new negotiations scheduled.
Daniels disclosed in the letter that Orsatti, who has been in the exec director slot since 1981, said privately in January that he planned to leave the union at the conclusion of negotiations over the commercial contract. Daniels also said Orsatti gave him a go-ahead to begin investigating the formation of a search committee in early October in anticipation that SAG’s strike against advertisers was coming to an end.
“I have talked with a number of high-profile members of the union as well as numerous industry executives and labor leaders regarding the type of committee that should be formed, and their opinion where the search committee might be looking for a replacement,” Daniels said. “Because of the commercial negotiations, this hasn’t been a full-time concern of mine, but I have learned that if the final committee is to have high-profile involvement in any capacity, even if only as (advisers), making proper arrangements with their time is important.”
Waiting to launch
Orsatti disclosed his plans to retire from the 98,000-member union at SAG’s national board plenary Oct. 29. Although there was sentiment among some board members to form a search committee at that point, Daniels decided that doing so would not be prudent.
“For the board to react on the retirement presentation made to them only hours before and to be forced to attempt to formulate both the size and structure of a search committee on such short notice is exactly the kind of rash decision-making I believe this union needs to steer itself away from, particularly when it involves a position as important as this one is to us,” Daniels said in the letter.