With a few minor changes, the following is an article that I posted on a Bulletin Board debate concerning the lack of action by our leadership to solve the ATA/NATR impasse.
First, we should all understand that SAG is in the drivers seat on this issue under a 1981 Supreme Court ruling (H. A. Artists & Assocs., Inc. v. Actors’ Equity Assn.) which allows the establishment of “a licensing system for the regulation of agents, prohibiting union members from using an agent who has not obtained a license from the union.”
So, if SAG members stand together just as they have for over the last 70 years, ATA/NATR agents would be between a rock and a hard place.! The only thing that sustains this debate is fear! A fear that was perpetrated on members by Melissa Gilbert, Restore Respect and USAN leadership after members overwhelming voted not to give into the ATA/NATR!
I had the privilege of being a board alternate at the plenary where the Agency Relations Committee recommended that SAG give the ATA/NATR a Drop Dead Date to become franchised! There were several rousing solidarity speeches and overwhelming support from most of the Hollywood leadership, but Melissa preempted the board voting on the matter, by informing all that it was late and that the meeting should be adjourned. Thus with the help of her RR supporters in Hollywood and the entire USAN board video conferencing from New York, the meeting was adjourned!
It was right around that time that we started to hear a new fear inducing mantra never before heard in SAG’s illustrious history: The idea that members would have to choose between their agents and SAG.
This of course is a completely bogus proposition, since members have already made that decision by the very act of becoming SAG members. Upon joining SAG, members agree to abide by SAG’s rules, regulations and constitution! Rule 16 A of that constitution mandates “that Guild members shall deal only with agents who are franchised by the Guild.”
One of the very reasons this union was formed was so that actors would have an organization to stand up for their rights, and individual members would not have to stand alone against employers, agents, and others– that might seek retribution on any single individual that stood up to them! As stated on the SAG website, the union was formed as “outrage primarily over long, grueling hours and workweeks that they found intolerable in Hollywood.”
There were agents at the time! They were not protecting all actors then, so why would anyone choose their agent over their union with the expectation of such protection now?
Unfortunately, CEO Bob hoodwinked those union leaders in power at the time after the ATA/NATR referendum defeat into temporarily suspending the enforcement of 16A in order to educate the membership and come up with a strategy to deal with noncompliant agents. (This act in itself was a violation of the SAG constitution. One that continues to today!
The promised strategy or education never materialized. And as agents saw that the SAG leadership, under President Gilbert, would not enforce its rules, they began to force GSA’s on their clients in defiance of the Agents Memorandum–which suspended the enforcement of 16 A as long as such agents abided by the franchise agreement! At that time rather than protecting its members, SAG’s leadership cowering response was to advise members victimized by these GSA’s to get a lawyer.
A Bulletin Board poster asked what was meant by “it might be too late.” The answer would be that SAG has the right, reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, to regulate agents by prohibiting its members from being represented by non-franchised agents. Some believe that this mandate could be in jeopardy by the fact that it has not been enforced for the last several yearsand that if we continue to allow our constitution to be ignored by allowing our members to be repped by non-franchised agents, we could lose that right under what is called Custom & Practice.
So what should be done! It is my opinion that ATA/NATR agents should not be rewarded for their actions of the last five years. They should be told that SAG is willing to return to the bargaining table, but if they are not, SAG will set a date in which it will once again enforce 16 A.
A letter should be sent to the membership explaining what SAG’s course of action will be and it is taking it. Those with ATA/NATR agents should be sent a list of franchised agents along with an update of any former non-franchised agents that decide to reinstate their franchise. Or newly formed agencies that most likely would spring up in order to take advantage of the situation. It’s no big secret that most of the bigger ATA agencies, and high-profile agents, never miss an opportunity poach high-profile members from each other.
At the same time, SAG must once again meet with its high-profile members to explain to them what’s at stake! This was done before the ATA/NATR Conflict of interest referendum! There were two such meetingsand only one semi high profiler stated that she would pick her agent over her guild!
Once, agents are convinced of the resolve of all our members on this matter, they will come back to the table! For instance, if at the time, an ad appeared in the trades listing a hundred of so high-profilers and superstars stating that they are loyal SAG members and stand by their union in ALL union matters, and this was followed by an ultimatum appearing at their doorstep a few days later, agents would return to the bargaining table post haste!
So, far the only thing I have heard in this string is the decision making SAG members have to make. We seem to forget that agents would also have a big decision to make! After all without clients, they would be in the untenable position of the store that has no product to push!
Personally, I think we have a mechanism already in place that would allow us to go after them one at a time, Divide and Conquer, so to speak.
But, until our current leadership, decides to take action based on our strengths rather than our self-induced fears, I’m afraid that we will eventually end up back with ostensibly the same situation we faced in the Thirties when the Producer-run Academy maneuvered to represent actors.
In regards to the definitive actions of our founders in forcing agents to franchise with a take it or leave it offer, a poster basically said that things are different then than they are now. Perhaps! But one constant survives. Those who make decisions based on their strength WIN. On the other hand, those whose decisions are based on weakness LOSE!
Can SAG regain the confidence of its members, after five years of turning its back on them with decisions based on fear?
With weak leadership, NO
With strong leadership, YES
A..L. Miller SW Editor & Chief