Eric Hughes may have lost the battle for the WGA West presidency against Victoria Riskin, but he won the war.
Hughes achieved a large measure of vindication Monday when William Gould IV, former head of the Natl. Labor Relations Board hired as an independent investigator to probe questions surrounding the vote, recommended to the WGA West board that Riskin step down by today because she was ineligible when she ran for re-election last summer against Hughes.
Gould found that Riskin, the daughter of Fay Wray and Oscar-winning writer Robert Riskin, had not worked enough over the previous four years to qualify as an active WGA member. Gould, who headed the NLRB between 1994 and 1998 and is on the law school faculty at Stanford U., also recommended the election results be overturned and that the WGA West board appoint Guild VP Charles Holland to fill Riskin’s slot until a new election can be held.
The unprecedented removal of a sitting president would come at an unfortunate juncture for the WGA, which is prepping for what are expected to be rocky negotiations with studios and nets.
The board met into Monday evening at WGA West HQ to consider Gould’s 35-page report and had not released a statement at deadline, nor had Riskin. But WGA member Ronald Parker, who entered the formal protest to Riskin’s election, confirmed Gould’s recommendations.
Hughes, who is a lifetime member, first raised Riskin’s status during the election, asserting that her active status should have expired June 30. At the time, he said, “I don’t think it’s right to go into negotiations with someone who doesn’t have a real stake in the outcome.”
After learning of Gould’s recommendations, Hughes said, “I feel as if I’ve come through on my promises to the 425 members who supported me in the election.”
Riskin, who is married to former WGA West prexy David Rintels, insisted during the campaign that she had maintained her active status but admitted she took a break from writing before winning the presidency in 2001. She said that serving in the post had taken up much of her subsequent time but that she had projects in the works, including a romantic comedy being developed with producer Barry Kemp.
Riskin testified during Gould’s probe that, prior to the June 30 deadline, she and Rintels had been paid $3,895 by Kemp for an option to a treatment based on her father’s “Magic Town.” But Guild staff testified during the probe that payments for options do not qualify for extension of active member status.
Parker’s complaint listed more than a dozen instances of alleged violations, most of which involved improper use of Guild resources such as affording incumbents campaigning opportunities in union publications and failure to follow rules such as notifying members that they could run for offices. “I think that an honest assessment of the violations cited in this letter would indicate that the Guild has engaged in, and continues to engage in, a systematic effort to keep power in the same hands,” Parker said in his Oct. 6 complaint.
Hughes did not initially seek the post but was tapped in June by the guild’s nominating committee. About 18% of the WGA West’s 7,600 eligible members voted in the election, with Riskin winning by an 846-425 margin.
Holland, a former Fox exec, co-chaired the WGA’s negotiating committee during the contentious 2001 bargaining with studios and nets. His most recent credit came on ESPN’s “Playmakers.”
The WGA’s current minimum basic agreement expires May 2. Key issues will likely include DVD residuals, health care and jurisdiction over reality TV and animation.
The controversy comes two years after SAG’s election committee invalidated Melissa Gilbert’s victory over Valerie Harper for presidency of that union due to misconduct by SAG staff and the balloting company. Gilbert then easily won a re-run election.