Johnson, McCord leaflet at session on how to exit guild

With most of Hollywood shut down for the holidays, a skirmish broke out last week over thesps being persuaded to quit the Screen Actors Guild.

SAG First VP Anne-Marie Johnson and several board members including Kent McCord leafleted outside a class conducted on the technique of filing for “financial core” status at the Hey, I Saw Your Commercial workshop studios in Los Angeles.

“We felt it was important to make sure that people attending the class get all the information about taking that step,” Johnson told Daily Variety. “It’s not something that we can ignore.”

Johnson said the leafleting elicited positive responses that indicated that the attendees had not made up their minds about quitting SAG.

SAG said Sunday it was investigating the classes.

“This is a complex area of federal law and we want to make certain that anyone attending these sessions is receiving accurate information,” the guild said. “A number of our members expressed their concern about the sessions to SAG staff and made themselves available at the conclusion of some sessions to provide accurate information to the attendees.”

Members who go “fi-core” resign their SAG membership and withhold the dues spent by SAG on political activities but can still work on union jobs. SAG, which announced in 2007 that those who do go “fi-core” generally won’t be allowed back into SAG, said Sunday that it’s concerned that members attending the classes won’t be aware of the consequences of quitting SAG.

It is our experience that many members are unaware that electing Fi Core status constitutes resignation of their membership, and results in the loss of other protections and benefits that they receive as members,” the guild said. “We want to protect our members from bad information and less than knowledgeable sources and ensure that they are not tricked into unknowingly resigning their membership.”

Despite SAG’s efforts, a total of nearly 2,000 actors have filed for financial core status, according to SAG’s most recent filing with the federal government.

A recent email solicitation from the workshop touted the event — held on four nights between Dec. 19 and Dec. 23 — as enabling actors to triple their income while acknowledging actors who have quit the union are “tight-lipped” when it comes to sharing information about it. It also asserted that non-union producers prefer working with fi-core actors and that those actors can still qualify for SAG health insurance.

You stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in earned income if you don’t get the facts to make the most informed decision when considering Financial Core,” the solicitation said.

Mike Pointer, who conducted the classes, told Daily Variety that about 15 to 20 people had shown up for each class. Pointer, who’s been a SAG member for two decades with credits on ads for McDonalds, AT&T and Cadillac, emphasized that he’s not trying to convince members to quit SAG but simply provide them with as much information as possible.

To me, it’s not a big deal if they go fi-core,” he added. “I’ve told SAG leaders that I totally understand their side of the story.”

Members who do go fi-core officially become “Fee Paying Non-Members,” according to SAG’s web site.

Fi-Core/FPNM can NOT represent themselves as Screen Actors Guild members on headshots, resumes, electronic submissions or web sites,” the site notes. “The presumption of Screen Actors Guild is that your resignation is a permanent decision. Fi-Core/FPNM are viewed as scabs or anti-union by SAG members, directors, and writers — most of whom also belong to entertainment unions.”

SAG noted that fee-paying non-members cannot participate in iActor, the free SAG online casting program or take advantage of other unspecified member benefits.

If you are choosing financial core because you were asked to work on a non-union project, you’re missing out on an opportunity for the guild to organize the project for you and all guild members,” the site notes.

SAG’s most recent filing with the U.S. Dept. of Labor for the fiscal year ended April 30 disclosed that there were 1,894 “agency fee-payers” along with 128,187 active members.

SAG members who work non-union can be disciplined under SAG’s Rule One — an internal rule that explicitly bars members from working for producers who are not signatory to SAG agreements. Those who violate Rule One can be fined, suspended or expelled after a trial board hearing.

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