Negotiations with producers are just weeks away, and SAG CEO Bob Pisano is still facing a lawsuit calling for his ouster as the union’s chief negotiator — but he won’t be facing it alone.
Hinting the guild itself has more to lose than Pisano does should he lose his job, the union has asked to be named a co-defendant in the conflict-of-interest lawsuit brought against the CEO by two members of the guild.
“We had to ask to be named a co-defendant, because we’ve got constitutional interests at stake,” said David White, SAG’s general counsel, in an interview with Daily Variety, adding, “The SAG board decides who’ll be its CEO, its chief negotiator, and what staff represents its interests. Two members don’t have the right to interfere in the democratic process that happens in the board room.”
Attorneys for SAG members Scott Wilson and Tom Bower wrote to SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert Jan. 30 claiming Pisano’s position as an advisory board member of pay TV outfit Cinema Entertainment Group and his seat on the board of directors of DVD rental outfit Netflix give Pisano “a legally imposed fiduciary duty to act in the best interests” of those companies. Both SAG and Pisano dismissed their concerns as having been previously examined and found not to conflict with SAG duties — those probes and conclusions made by SAG’s search committee, its inhouse and external counsels and its national board.
Undeterred, Wilson and Bower submitted papers in July in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeking a court-enforced removal of Pisano as SAG’s chief negotiator.
“SAG has intervened in this lawsuit to protect Bob Pisano, and Bob Pisano is trying to hide his conflict of interest behind SAG,” Wilson said, adding, “SAG’s intervention was not approved by the (national) board of directors and must have been approved by Pisano himself. Pisano is using SAG to protect himself. This is a misuse of the member’s money.”
A SAG spokesman countered that SAG general counsel White asked for the guild to be named a co-defendant only after consulting and getting the greenlight from SAG’s elected leadership, including SAG prexy Gilbert and secretary-treasurer James Cromwell, among others.
Recent events indicate Pisano enjoys the support of his union’s board, at least for now. In October, Pisano faced down his third vote of no confidence initiated by the guild’s Hollywood board regarding his role as chief negotiator. The national board backed him by a modest but decisive margin, with 58% voting in favor of keeping him on the job. (In August, Pisano had survived a similar vote with 68% of the national board’s backing.)
With that in mind, White added that SAG also has filed a request for summary judgment with the court — a court order ruling that no factual issues remain to be tried and that all causes of action in a complaint can be decided upon certain facts without trial.
A hearing is set for Dec. 6 in U.S. District Court, when a judge will determine whether to dismiss the suit or proceed.
All of this is coming to a head as Pisano is readying for contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers tentatively skedded to begin by the end of the year.
For only the third time in its history, SAG had sought — and in March reached — a one-year extension with producers. The guild purposely left DVD and other residuals off the table, instead, focusing on minimum wage and pension and health increases to avoid a work slowdown. When the second phase of the negotiations resume, residuals will again be front-and-center.
However, since neither the Directors Guild nor the Writers Guild made any progress on the DVD residuals issue, it appears Pisano will have a hard row to hoe, regardless of the outcome of the litigation.
In the meantime, insiders privately speculate SAG might start negotiating with producers as soon as Dec. 2, but the date is not set in stone.