Jumping off the ban wagon

Union cannot enforce laws based on celebrity sez Clooney

George Clooney has criticized the Screen Actors Guild’s national board for its recent expulsion of three members who performed struck work during last year’s commercial strike.

Clooney asserted the punishment against Mario Barbieri Cecchini, Gerry Donato and Robert Kalomeer were not equivalent to those given out to Elizabeth Hurley, Shaquille O’Neal and Tiger Woods for the same offense of crossing picket lines. Hurley and Woods were fined $100,000 each by trial boards while O’Neal’s case did not go to trial.

“All of these people used poor judgment,” Clooney said. “Three of them needed the money a lot more than the other three. As a union, you cannot enforce laws based on celebrity, and the punishment must be uniform.”

Some SAG members who were active in the strike were perturbed over what they perceived as the leniency of penalties assessed against Hurley, O’Neal and Woods, who all apologized.

SAG’s board voted on Oct. 14 to expel Cecchini, Donato and Kalomeer — who were accused of repeated violations — and identify them publicly. The expulsions do not prevent SAG signatories from hiring the trio even though the Guild urges producers not to hire non-members.

Clooney, who contributed an undisclosed amount last year to the fund to help strikers, offered to pay the fines for Cecchini, Donato and Kalomeer if they could not afford to do so. He also urged the board not to expel other strikebreakers.

“I suggest that in this time of healing that we accept all of the actors apologies, attach fines appropriately and fairly and let people go about the business of chasing their dreams,” Clooney said. “This union was created not to protect the famous (they can take care of themselves) but to protect the struggling actor … even if that means from themselves.”

SAG spokesman Greg Krizman said, “We appreciate George’s thoughts and would like to assure him that our rules are not enforced based on celebrity and punishments are indeed uniformly based on the unique set of features of each individual case.”

Peaches Johnson, who led dozens of strike pickets, said Clooney’s letter has the effect of giving comfort to strikebreakers. “The letter makes us out to be the bad guys for doing the right thing,” she added.

The question of appropriate punishment for violating SAG’s Rule One — which explicitly bars members from non-union work — will remain a major issue for the Guild. The board recently set next May 1 as implementation date of its “Global Rule One” campaign to urge members to turn down work on non-union projects overseas, but has not specified penalties (Daily Variety, Oct. 15).

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