The invective coursing through the ballot package mailed to Writers Guild of America West members today hints strongly at the acrimony to come in next month’s elections to the board of governors.
While the 96-page document — which includes statements from the 20 candidates running for the eight open seats on the board as well as many more from members who are not in the race — is predominantly serene and straightforward, some passages leave no doubt that WGAW elections can raise as much hell as ever.
The ballot package also serves to partition the guild into two factions: those who favor traditional collective bargaining, with the looming threat of strikes, and those who back the Contract Adjustment Committee, which attempts early resolution of contract issues without going for the jugular.
“If the anti-CAC slate wins, this board election may well determine the future of union/industry collective bargaining for the next 10 years,” WGAW secretary-treasurer Michael Mahern said Thursday. His comment stems from the fact that, once the guild adopted the CAC method in the wake of the five and a half-month writers’ strike in 1988, the other major industry unions followed suit; if that approach is abandoned, the other unions are again likely to follow the WGAW’s lead.
Coming out of retirement
A strong slate of candidates is arrayed against the CAC — some of them persuaded to come out of retirement to run for the cause. The slate includes former WGAW presidents John Furia Jr., Frank Pierson, David Rintels and Brad Radnitz; former board member Michael Halperin; Lynn Roth, who tried to win the guild presidency a year ago; incumbent Josh Friedman; former board member Beth Sullivan; and Michel Grilikhes.
The anti-CAC faction, which believes that a return to traditional bargaining would restore muscle to the guild in its dealings with producers, can count on the support of two incumbent board members, Ann Marcus and Victoria Riskin. Should the whole slate win election, the faction would have a 10-member majority on the 19-member board.
The pro-CAC side — backed by WGAW president Daniel Petrie Jr. and vice-president John Wells — is mostly younger, exemplifying the generation gap between the traditionalists and the self-described progressives. The slate is made up of incumbents Carl Gottlieb, Jim Staahl, Amy Holden Jones, David Balkan and Brenda Lilly; Dennis Feldman; Charles Holland; and Tim O’Donnell, the only half-hour TV writer in the running.
The remaining candidates are Connie Zimmerman, Dyanne Asimov and Craig Miller, who are not apparently aligned with either side.
Speaking for the pro-CAC faction, Gottlieb implies in the ballot booklet that the other side hungers for work stoppages. “The last thing we need is a strike intended to have older members teach younger members how to be tough,” Gottlieb writes. “That’s a bonding exercise we don’t need. The battles of the past are over; our real task is the struggle for the future.”
More graphically, Grilikhes lays into Mahern after the secretary-treasurer points out that an internal investigation into alleged illegalities in last year’s board election cost $250,000. Mahern lists the four current candidates who signed the petition containing the allegations — Friedman, Halperin, Sullivan and Grilikhes himself.
“Is Mahern’s vomitive campaign spasm,” Grilikhes asks, “the level to which our guild elections have finally sunk — this sleazy slashing of character?”
Rintels, who was president from 1975-77, writes that he remembers “a kinder, gentler guild.”
“I’m sorry to see so many writers attack each other in these pages,” he goes on. “To see friends and colleagues vilified in this way seems to me senseless and self-destructive, and symptomatic of much of what has diminished the guild’s cohesion and effectiveness in recent years.”
The ballot package will go out today to the 8,022 members eligible to vote. Members may vote by mail or in person at the Sept.17 annual membership meeting in the guild’s theater in Beverly Hills.
Members may hear more from the candidates in a forum at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 2 at WGAW headquarters in Los Angeles.