HOLLYWOOD — The Screen Actors Guild’s affirmative action department has emerged as a new battleground within the troubled union, with top SAG execs launching a surprise attack on the operation.
SAG associate national exec director John McGuire and Hollywood branch exec director Leonard Chassman forced out the department’s two top administrators Friday with no explanation and no successors tapped. Patricia Heisser Metoyer, the department’s exec administrator for the past three years, was placed on 30-day administrative leave and No. 2 exec Peter Nguyen, hired two months ago to enforce nondiscrimination portions of SAG contracts, was fired.
The moves by McGuire and Chassman, already under fire amid accusations of ignoring mandates from SAG’s elected leaders, will undoubtedly add to the already acrimonious atmosphere expected for next weekend’s national board meeting in Los Angeles.
Metoyer had no comment but Nguyen said the firing stemmed from his advocacy on behalf of guild members and his pushing for reform within SAG.
“Nobody wants to be thrown into the role of a whistleblower, but there comes a time when you must stand up for principles and integrity no matter the price,” Nguyen said. “Make no mistake: I have not been fired … I have been fired upon for attempting to do right by the rank-and-file of this union.”
Nguyen accused unnamed forces within SAG of trying to eliminate the affirmative action department and disclosed a potential bombshell: “Had I remained with the guild,” he declared, “it would have been a priority for me to resolve the many pending race-discrimination complaints against SAG’s human resources department and senior staff.”
SAG spokesman Greg Krizman said he had no knowledge of the race-discrimination complaints and denied that McGuire’s and Chassman’s actions were designed to eliminate the department.
“The affirmative action department remains of continued importance within SAG and we will take immediate steps to ensure its continued operation,” Krizman added.
The moves took place without any advance notice within SAG; even Anne-Marie Johnson, chief of SAG’s ethnic employment opportunity commission, was blind-sided. “This is a major, major, major blow, and I am not happy,” Johnson said.
Strife at the top
The moves are certain to create further problems for SAG’s elected leaders, who have long supported efforts to boost the presence of ethnic minorities and women in film and TV roles. And it is also liable to infuriate board members already upset over constant battling with McGuire, who said last October that he was seeking a reduced role within SAG, and Chassman, who announced in December that he would retire in August.
With January’s retirement of Ken Orsatti as national exec director, McGuire and Chassman have come under fire from SAG’s elected leaders for either failing to address ongoing problems or carrying out policy in opposition to the board. SAG’s Southwestern regional director and national director of organizing Jerre Hookey cited these factors two weeks ago in announcing his resignation (Daily Variety, March 14).
Nguyen’s firing is also likely to highlight the deep internal divisions within SAG since he had been a key manager of many SAG events during the six-month strike against advertisers. SAG’s leaders in Los Angeles were often at odds with the New York-based McGuire during the work stoppage due to McGuire’s resistance to the harder line advocated by SAG prexy William Daniels and his allies.