In a November 21st article of Variety Magazine, SAG CEO Pisano slammed SAG Members Rick Barker and Gil Combs for filing their Conflict Of Interest lawsuit over SAG’s practice of allowing elected officers to also serve as AFTRA board members.
On subsequent occasions it seems the current leadership has not missed a beat in berating them for taking their lawful action. An action by the way that was taken only after SAG’s National Board decided not to take any action on their complaint.
Since, you have only been give one side of this story, we at the Ol’ SAG Watchdog thought you might like to hear from Mr. Barker and the reasons for his and Mr. Combs actions!
I invited Mr. Barker to give us his side of the story!
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief
First as to the point of his suit? Here is Rick’s Response:
The whole point of our suit is that we believe that the members of both unions (SAG and AFTRA) have the right (legally and morally) to have elected and appointed officers that are working for them and only them…and not for others whose interests conflict with those of the union.
It has been my experience that “dual officers” are either in the SAG board room working against SAG or in the AFTRA board room working against AFTRA…and that is not the way it ought to be.
Also…even if we do end up consolidating the two unions at some point in the future we still need to have officers that are free from conflicts of interest with other organizations or employers of our members.
We are going to stay away from attacking decisions made by the union. The courts are actually prohibited under the Business Judgment Rule from doing that. What we are attacking, and what the courts have ever right to do though is to require that those decisions (no matter what they are) are made by people free from conflicts of interest as defined in labor law.
What follows is a more detailed discussion by Mr. Barker on the merits of his case and a discussion of its current status and where he plans to take the suit in the future.
Conflicts of Interest
All unions in the United States fall under the rules and regulations set forth by Congress, and enforced by the US Labor Department. The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA) is the portion of labor law that addresses the issue of safeguarding unions against officers, agents, shop stewards, and other representatives of a labor organization holding positions of trust at the union from having conflicts of interest that would tend to interfere with their fiduciary responsibilities to the union and its members as a group.
Persons holding elected and/or appointed positions of trust at a union are prohibited under Title V- Section 501 from having pecuniary (financial) or personal interests in organizations whose interests conflict with those of the union. They are also prohibited from acting as an adverse partyer on behalf of an adverse party, to the union.
This act also states: “A general exculpatory provision in the constitution and bylaws of such a labor organization or a general exculpatory resolution of a governing body purporting to relieve any such person of liability for breach of the duties declared by this section shall be void as against public policy.”
Obviously, persons who have financial and/or personal interests in companies who employ our members would not be allowed, under this Act, to serve as officers of the union. SAG has several officers who own and operate active production companies that produce both feature films and TV shows.
Just as obvious is the fact that SAG and AFTRA are engaged in an ongoing battle over the representation of performers working on motion pictures shot with digital cameras. This fact, coupled with the numerous financial issues (payments for branch offices, joint negotiations, etc.) between the two unions, makes AFTRA an adverse party to SAG. SAG has over forty (40) elected and/or appointed people in positions of trust who simultaneously hold elected and/or appointed positions of trust at AFTRA.
The question begs to be asked and answered when an issue involving an area of dispute between SAG and AFTRA arises, how do these people holding positions of trust and fiduciary duty to both unions make a decision? By law, they are required to act solely in the best interest of the union and its members as a group but which one?
When I became aware of the LMRDA provisions I decided to try and do something to force SAG to come into compliance with the law. Following the requirements of the LMRDA, and SAG’s constitution, I made a legal and formal request for action to Bob Pisano (as SAG’s NED/CEO) and asked that the SAG national board take action to remedy this situation. On October 18, 2003 the national board voted unanimously to take no action.
This “no-action” reply from the national board allowed me to continue by filing a suit in federal court the following week. The requirements for filing such a case are extensive and extremely technical in nature as they should be since they are designed to protect unions from harassment and frivolous assaults by disgruntled members.
The procedure involves “proving” to a federal judge that you do in fact have a legitimate case and that you have exhausted any and all internal union remedies for resolving the dispute, and then asking for the courts “permission” to continue with the suit.
SAG filed an objection to our suit on four grounds: 1) that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over the matter. 2) that even if the court did have jurisdiction, the statute of limitations had expired. 3) that even if the previous two were incorrect the court would be violating the sanctity of the unions right to conduct its business without interference from the government. 4) we had not given the court specific and detailed instances where the actions of these people were not in the best interests of the union.
It is revealing to note that SAG never questioned or denied that these people had conflicts of interest. They only claimed that we hadn’t proved that they had used them to the detriment of the union.
The court rejected SAG’s first three objections but agreed with the fourth. The court denied our request without prejudice. By including the wording “without prejudice” the court is allowing us to re-file the case by including the requested “specifics.” Had the court denied our case ” with prejudice” we would not be allowed to re-file the case.
Despite what SAG has claimed, the court DID NOT say that our case was without merit nor did the court say that serving both SAG and AFTRA simultaneously was acceptable under federal labor laws.
At the present time I am attempting to gather the required “specifics” (not an easy task at SAG) and also attempting to raise enough money to continue on with the suit.
I started this action by retaining a lawyer (with $20 grand put up by myself and a friend) and soliciting money from the stunt community. So far we have managed to raise enough to get us this far but we are falling short of what will be needed to continue.
I am reaching out to the members of SAG for contributions to help in the causeand anyone wishing to contribute can contact me personally (contact info is included) and I can give you a detailed description of where we are and what we need.
Thank you all and thank you Arlin for allowing me access to this venue.
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