Dissent at SAG: Point and counterpoint

Guest Columns

Referring to Dave McNary’s Jan. 25 article “A Center of Discord” (rhymes with McCord, doesn’t it?), I must say the article smacks of media McCarthyism when it singles out one individual, Kent McCord, as the prime motivator for any and all opposition to approval of the proposed TV/Theatrical contract. (Is this to imply that all others who opposed are lemmings?) This dovetails nicely with the article’s citing that McCord is already the producers’ pariah within the union. I would ask the administration and the membership: Is it their belief that union democracy is interpreted as “my way or the highway?”

How can president Melissa Gilbert and secretary-treasurer James Cromwell so casually dismiss Kent’s and the others’ opposing the proposed contract as “pursuing a political agenda — preparing to walk our membership over a cliff for purely political gain.” What gain? What garbage!

This is not the first time such language has been used by this administration and you can be sure it won’t be the last. Similar language was used against Scott Wilson, Tom Bower and David Jolliffe for their lawsuits, implying nefarious reasons for their actions.

I know these gentlemen well, have worked with them for years and know without any doubt that each and every one of them have put their reputations, their careers and their personal finances on the line, gaining nothing from this act other than to strive for the greatest functioning of the union for all its members.

Kent McCord was invaluable to my presidency, nay to all presidencies, and for his union stances over the years suffered career standstills and NO political gain. I will always regard him as the best union mentor a good president could find. So when he chooses to oppose a contract that does not improve the approximately 16¢ per DVD to be split amongst the actors in it with management having made more than $30 billion last year on the sale and rental of DVDs, how can Gilbert and Cromwell hold their heads up at uttering such calumny? The purpose of the guild is to protect its individual members, not to target them.

Asner was president of SAG from 1981-85.

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Let’s start by giving Ed Asner his due. He deserves the respect of many for a life spent fighting hard for causes he believes in, particularly the concerns of ac-tors. More than 20 years ago, he served two terms as president of SAG, and we honor his service.

But a lot has changed over the past 20 years. Today we face in Washington, D.C., the most anti-labor administration in generations. Over the past year, many unions across America fought desperately — with only mixed success — to prevent rollbacks and confront employer lockouts, and some engaged in strikes just to retain what they have.

So against that backdrop, what did SAG achieve in our recent negotiations with producers for a new TV/theatrical contract? Nothing less than the single richest deal in the history of actor/producer collective bargaining: $200 million in gains for working performers in a contract that includes more than $1.2 billion in annual earnings.

When Mr. Asner asks, then, how we can hold our heads high about this new three-year agreement, the answer is simple: $144 million in wage increases for every category of performer; 75,000 new background jobs across film and television, the largest increase in 13 years; longer rest periods for stunt coordinators that provide safer working conditions; new health coverage for choreographers; a plan to ensure that series regulars whose shows are canceled receive health coverage the following year; a major initiative to promote scripted programming for actors; and the largest lump sum of money ever put into actors’ health and pension plans.

Actors did not win every demand in these negotiations — no side ever does, as Mr. Asner knows well from his extensive experience as a past guild president. But actors won a lot this round.

And if the joint SAG and AFTRA membership ratifies this new contract in the coming weeks, performers will take this, the most lucrative deal in our history, and proudly keep working, uninterrupted, for another three years.

For that, and on behalf of working actors, we definitely hold our heads high.

Gilbert is president and Cromwell is secretary-treasurer of SAG.