From March 2006, but most of this still applies.
There are those who toss stones at me or who do not understand who I am and why I serve. I hope by republishing this here I can bring some of them over to understand why I do this blog, without pay or compensation, serve on the union board, also without pay or compensation, and put so much of my soul into the service of fellow performers, students and creative artist...
The message below appeared in the March, 2006 Nevada Actor Newsletter.
And be aware that I have asked them, and in trying to communicate to you my observations and feelings I have, once again, been censored and will not be able to put exactly how I feel in this letter. The print newsletter was greatly abbreviated for the same reason. This time I do want to spell out what I am allowed to say, and to let you know to read between the lines as you see fit.
I want to put these thoughts down as best I can, given the current situation in the Guild, and a stronger oversight of what is allowed to be written and share in Guild paid for communications. I am against censorship in any form, including corporate, but it is a reality within the new Guild and many other organizations.
SAG may have been changed by people of good will who have not bothered to understand or consult with those of us who live outside of greater Los Angeles. There is a one-size-fits-all attitude about the industry and our contracts. Anyone who works outside of Hollywood knows that performers need flexibility.
I believe in a union based on the rights of all talent, regardless of experience level or credits, or professional backgrounds. My belief comes from the basics of the union movement as experienced and taught to me by my father and my upbringing in Chicago, where for those who did not know, early unionists died for their rights to wages, working conditions, contracts and the ability to earn fair compensation for their talents and efforts.
Testimony of unions and the fraternity needed for success became clear to me with the large number of union sisters and brothers who paid their tribute at my father’s wake and funeral so many years ago.
I did not publish this in the print newsletter and cannot voice it in groups, for fear of stoning. Too much has changed as we move even further from the generations that remember why unions were so needed in the first place.
Unions are in trouble and SAG is decaying from within.
To his credit, our national president (the first since Richard Masur), is visiting each of the branches. My sincere hope is that Alan Rosenberg truly listens to our thoughts and concerns when he visits Las Vegas March 19. He may continue to hear that some of us in the branches have questions, given a decision to dismiss our CEO/NED, a man with many years of negotiating experience, just as we moved into contract negotiations. I also have questions about the president’s selection of certain national committee chairs. In my opinion, their selections appear to be for political reasons. At least one key chair is among those who were strongest in the re-organization that lowered Nevada’s voice at the national level and contributed to the closure of our three full-time staff member office in favor of a shared staff member, who resides in Los Angeles.
There is a distancing between a viewpoint which now dominates the Hollywood Division, and the will, value and voice of both the New York and Regional Branch Divisions. Nevada is one of the smaller regional branches, easily overlooked by those who are convinced they represent the membership of the union. People who worked actively to reduce our percentage vote within the national board, to reduce our budgets and in doing so close our once three-person office, are now elected or appointed decision makers at the national and Hollywood level. Those who referred to Nevada as “run-a-way” production are for the time being, running the store. But we have a voice, and in both the RBD and the New York Divisions we have strong advocates to restore respect to the entire union, nationally. I am very optimistic about the future of our union and our contracts.
Multiple voices, remembering the little guy and working together in fraternity and camaraderie are what makes unions work and grow.
I am not feeling the resentment of some individuals or fatherly chastisement of others, as much as I am feeling the real need for unions.
On a national level workers, even educated or white-collar workers, are looked upon as functionaries and expendable or easily replaceable if they do not simply accept whatever pay or working conditions they are given and restrictions placed upon them. We are, increasingly, less individuals and more numbers who fill slots and are liabilities against the bottom line instead of assets for the successful of the product, program or dream. Our products are manufactured or produced outside of this country while consumers continue to purchase the end product without thought or regard to the American workers who either lost their jobs, or saw their paychecks shrivel as a result. Management is increasingly about profit for the shareholders over building and respecting the asset that are their employees.
Too much internally at SAG is now the top down. It is time to listen to and provide for the needs of all members, not just those who are blessed enough to work frequently under contract or who think they have the good fortune to reside in Los Angeles.
It takes positive faith, belief and motivation to build a union, particularly where there is little work or hope of work. It takes a belief in everyone, every background extra and student, every retired actor and child who experience the passion and joy of acting and performing, regardless of whether or not they have earned a paycheck. It takes believing that what we do is special and should be treated with respect, regardless of where we live or if our incomes are under contract.
I will continue to serve, as a voice in a minority that speaks up for the little guy, the small branch, those who need a voice to assure the future of a union they believe enough in to be members of, regardless of their chance of ever grabbing the brass ring and making enough money to be fully accepted by "working actors" or the staff.
The Nevada branch I became active in is now a thing of the past. Those who founded the branch and risked being blacklisted to bring the union here are aging or have passed away. The council is working to keep the social and political dreams that created our branch alive and well. I’ll admit that much of the energy and fire left with the office, with broken promises, with changes in how we are looked upon and treated on a national level.
A sincere thank you to Steve Dressler, Hrair Messerlian, the Nevada branch officers and council for the work they are doing on all of our behalves. There is far more going on behind the scenes and many more hours of committee work than anyone outside of the council process realizes. Council member Bobby Bernhardt, in particular, put many weeks into revising the bylaws for Nevada Conservatory. Lollo Sievert serves on multiple national committees, as do Kim Renee, Steve Dressler and myself. Other council members work on national and local committees to keep our branch alive and services running.
Our branch needs union blood to help turn the work force union in our hostile Right-to-Work state. We need to stand up against those who work both sides of the street, to speak loud and clear that the only true professional is someone willing to stick their neck out and carry a union card, in solidarity and with great pride.
The union heart is beating.
Join your council and elected officers through active participation and the passion only you can bring to building the Nevada branch!
Join me in making my dad proud!
God bless and Fraternally yours,