Excerpted from a dissertations
by Art Lynch
A Social Movement: The Rhetoric and Social Actions of the Performers Alliance
The history and evolution of the Screen Actors Guild is continued in this section, which will examine developments since 1997. These observations may shed light on the impact of new technologies, corporate mergers and the evolution of the entertainment industry into one of the dominant economic forces of the new century. We will look at how, even in this international mega-merger economy of the entertainment industry, a small group of dissatisfied individuals, acting as a social movement, may still affect the future of and shape of an industry.
The purpose of this portion of this thesis is to review the formation, aspirations and rise of the Los Angeles based Performance Alliance (PA) and to look at the rhetoric and social actions of actors active in reinventing the Screen Actors Guild. The evolution of the PA as a social movement using rhetoric and organizing methods will be examined. The PA started in March 1997 to build a grass roots movement of Los Angeles actors dissatisfied with the 1996 Commercial and Industrial National contract, in particular only minor gains made in cable rates. The Performers Alliance, as a movement of its own, formed in reaction to what the founders saw as the lack of responsiveness by elected union leadership to threats to the livelihood of professional actors. (Robb, 1997)
Click "read more" below or click here for access to the public portions of the dissertation (some witheld for copyright..may be viewed at the UNLV Library).
The Birth & Formation of the PA: The Cause for Revolution
The Performers Alliance formed in the spring of 1997 by actors who felt their livelihood was being eroded by over-exposure to the audience on cable, by a lack of accountability for talent re-use in new technological mediums, by an industry move to pay only scale (the minimum wage allowed under a given contract) and by production leaving the country. Seeing their union, the Screen Actors Guild, as being unresponsive to changes occurring as distribution and production technologies evolved beyond traditional film and broadcast television, in March 1997, a small group of actors banned together to build a coalition for change. They were acting in response to a situation, which they perceived as negative for both themselves and their profession. Dissatisfaction over what was perceived as a weak three-year contract with commercial and industrial provided a clear triggering event. (Robb, 1997) The genesis period, as termed by Stewart, Smith and Denton (1989), began when mounting frustrations began to be directed at the union, which was perceived as not doing a good job in negotiating the new contracts. This led to concerns over a perceived lack of attention to the careers of actors by their unions. Also fitting the first phase in the Davis model (1930), the union saw the issue only as a minor one, one of many facing their membership, and in the negotiating process put a lower priority on the concerns of what became the Alliance, than on other equally pressing wage, working conditions and contractual concerns. The policy of the unions is to negotiate and avoid a direct and possibly violent work stoppage, which would eliminate all professional acting income and benefit payments for their membership. During the genesis phase, the negotiators for the union establishment were working in a world of management-labor compromise and co-existence, only mildly aware that there may have been a growing concern that more radical changes were necessary.
The new coalition of actors identified their common interests and developed a common plan of action. (Burke, 1969). As a group and as individuals, they saw very real challenges to their livelihood, their profession, their craft and their art forms. These challenges were coming from corporate conglomeration, mergers, new media, new ways of disseminating what they contributed to producing as talent, new ways for others to benefit from the use of their talents, voices and images. The PA pursued a clear agenda of agitation, control and social change as outlined in The Rhetoric of Agitation and Control (Bowers, Ochs and Jensen, 1993). They drew on stereotyped images of corrupt unions, on the perception that their elected representatives were too close and maybe even "in bed" with management. They were displeased with what they saw as unnecessary compromises and shifting priorities, with attention taken from their way of making a living in favor of other areas of employment by Guild members. Their shared vision was one of discontent, disenchantment and the need for change in a back to the basics role for union representation. Their need as a group was for hope and empowerment. They perceived their union, SAG, as drifting away from its primary mission, which they see as providing for the well being and income of membership. (P.A., 1999, http). The Alliance responded to and used perceived weakness in the contracts, a contested internal election and a perception of a union being led by those who are not working actors or who have lost touch with the struggle of those seeking to make all or most of their living as performers. In this way they meet the definition of agitation as "a style of persuasion characterized by highly emotional argument based on citation of grievances and alleged violation of moral principles." The PA came from "from outside the normal decision making establishment" advocating significant change and encountered 'a degree of resistance within the establishment such as to require more than normal discursive means of persuasion." (Bowers, Ochs, Jensen, 1993 p. 3-5)
A Deliberate Choice of Change
The hierarchy of the existing union structure, at the time already in preparation for a dramatic transformation with the planned merger with AFTRA, represented the structure this new group of actors needed to choose to work within or confront head on. Concerned with their identity as actors and what they believed was the unions' preoccupation with a much broader definition of performers, the Performers Alliance felt it was time to derail the merger, focus on protection of actors captured performances and aggressively fight for stronger contracts in the expanding media of cable and interactive media. With the reality that not all performers on camera or microphone consider themselves to be “actors,” and to avoid providing the other side with an obvious rhetorical joke to launch back, Alliance members rejected the term Actors Alliance or AA. The Performers Alliance coined their own name as a rhetorical rallying flag for working actors to rally around in the name of justice and making a living.
Behind the rise of the Performers Alliance a simultaneous debate occurred concerning the long sought after proposed merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Actors and motion picture, television and commercial performers were divided on a merger which would have put actors into a significant minority within their own union. A merged union, it was said, could have a broadcaster or a recording artist at its head and a board made up of artist who had little or no understanding of what it is struggle to make a living as a working actors. Fear existed that the needs of traditional Screen Actors would be sold out by the heavily pro-merger Masur and his administration (observation, 1997-2000).
Talk led to a decision that to protect their own livelihood, they would have to energize their fellow actors and begin a revolution within their unions. This restoration vision (Bormann, 1981) may have started as a contagion in one room; living and virile, but would take organization and common action to come to fruition. The rally call to membership and eventual secret ballot votes may have been directly dependent on voting actors drawing from their own established vision of their union, one of unions representing fair compensation for labors, the worker's right to earn a living and support their families. (Bormann, 1982). The Alliance may have been able to undermine support in the sitting SAG Board of Directors because actors, their immediate audience, viewed issues in terms of what was best for themselves and their personal interest without perceiving the larger picture of all performers in all situations. (Bormann, 1982). Within any union, picket signs, fliers, leaflets, speeches and the privilege of running for office are accepted methods of advancing within the hierarchy. These actors would eventually approach their situation using all of these tools and, as will be examined later, the resources of the Internet and e-mail.
Formed by a small group of highly visible commercial actors, whose face or voice would be readily recognizable by the public and for the same reasons by other actors, the Alliance expanded to include television series regulars, day-players, voice artists and other working actors. Day-players are actors hired on a day to day basis to speak only a few lines. The Alliance moved into Stewart, Smith and Denton’s phase two (1989) when they began to voice their frustrations to other actors in person, with letters, handouts and eventually signs. As they began to do so in an organized mode, they entered Stewart’s phase three, enthusiastic mobilization. These phases include elements of all of Davis’s (1930) first four stages, falling primarily still within the first stage. Meanwhile the union establishment responded by trying logically to explain the contract negotiation process and why not all of the union’s goals and demands were met this time around. The Alliance was least successful garnishing support among actors who earned their primary livings outside of the industry. These professional part-time actors were more concerned about the continuation of auditions and work opportunities than about any possibility of over-exposure, which some even saw as a goal that they would like to achieve. There was also a geographic schism, and while the Alliance did recruit and include east coast actors who regularly work on both coasts, their east coast efforts at expansion were far less successful than in Hollywood. Since the majority of union commercial work is concentrated on the two coasts, the Alliance failed to seek or garner support from the numerous SAG branches or AFTRA locals between New York and Los Angeles.
The solidarity of the Alliance helped individual members cope with frustrations over their perceived professional jeopardy and adapt to a political method of action. Believing that change was necessary and that they had the formula to bring about their desired change, these early members set the parameters for scope and message while setting out on the consciousness raising leg of their rhetorical mission. Perhaps without intending to do so, the Alliance and its membership created consciousness raising communication, which fertilized the growth of their own membership while at the same time reinforcing some of the basic beliefs of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild and in a way the entire American labor movement. (Bormann, 1983). Positioning themselves under a common identity, a single umbrella, as the good guy working actors, those who are threatened by evil giants and what they felt was an under-responsive elected SAG leadership, they chose to take action and make a difference. These actors sought an audience in agreement with their own beliefs in order to reinforce those beliefs and build a strong case for change.
The move to phase three (Stewart, Smith and Denton, 1989), full enthusiastic mobilization, occurred quickly when it became obvious that their union boards were unwilling to take the strongest action in their labor movement arsenal, over the “cable issue.” SAG and AFTRA were not willing to strike. This corresponds with phase three of the Davis model (1930), where there is a growing consciousness within the group and a movement toward action.
Members of the Alliance were unified by the belief that the commercials contract ignored threats to their livelihood created by over-exposure, and by what they perceived as under-compensation on cable and in new technologies. In response, the Alliance sought to present an image of unresponsive unions (SAG and AFTRA) made up of “old-timers” and/or those who have forgotten what is to be a struggling working actor, whose primary livelihood is acting. There is much truth to their assumptions. However, what those inside the negotiating process believed the Alliance failed to understand, is that corporate management is growing in strength and the unions are fighting to gain often tiny and symbolic ground against industries which would probably not care if the unions disappeared. From a corporate management viewpoint, actors are viewed as replaceable, disposable workers, a vast supply of labor.
Shared Experiences and Language
The battle for identification with working actors, and thus control of the union, begins with the use of strategic definitions. The formation of the Performers Alliance included the conscientious choice of a name that would imply unity and attract quick identification for the working members of the union. The founders deliberately chose to leave the word ‘actor’ out of the title in an acknowledged move to attract voice artists, stunt professionals, singers, dancers and others into their movement.
The group plays on the commonalties of any alliance using the tools of grass roots organizing, They use the same basic public relations tools, which were used to form the star-driven power base upon which the Screen Actors Guild was built. The PA uses much of the same rhetoric, both in language and action, as the founding fathers of the Guild in their break with the management formed "union". In 1933 the dozen founders of the Screen Actors Guild gathered in a back room to formulate plans to take on management. In the summer of 1997, the founders of the PA met in an actor’s home. [The names must remain confidential] SAG's founders reacted to high profile actors who were willing to tote the studio's company line. The founders of the PA felt the existing SAG National Board had "sold out" their interest in favor of other concessions and contract gains from a management some felt had become too friendly with the Guild's top officers and staff. This rhetoric of change feeds on the audience’s tendency to believe that those in positions of power do abuse that power or at the very least grow too comfortable and complacent in their positions. The PA redefined the currency of symbols. They use them to shape perception of the union among members, to call for common action, and to publicly proclaim common interest easily identified with by most members of the Screen Actors Guild. They wave the same flag of unionism as the opposition they hope to unseat. Lippmann refers to the way we see the world as being a fabric of "fictions", which are facts and reality as understood and processed by our own perceptions. (1922) The PA carefully crafted a world of fictions, telling working actors that those in power and the strong representation of non-working actors elected from other parts of the country threatened all real actors (Hollywood based) ability to earn a living under Guild Contracts.
Utilizing the most current industry news of any given week, the PA applied press relations to keep a constant communications line open with the media, primarily the Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Times and with the non-union e-entertainment cable network. As reported in Daily Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles Times, the Performers Alliance organization staged protest rallies in front of the Screen Actors Guild offices and at high profile industry events, such as film openings and awards programs.
An analysis of the Performers Alliance and their rhetorical arguments may support Doyle’s (1985) contention that dramatic plots, if repeated, can be persuasive. The Alliance used much of the same rhetoric, both in language and action, as the founding fathers of the Guild in their break with the management formed "union", the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Burke states (1966) that society is created and maintained through symbols, which are used to control behavior and that for any common action to take place, common interest must be publicly proclaimed. The flag of unionism, in this case, works in favor of the Alliance, whose audience consists of fellow actors and entertainment industry employees who understand what life in a creative and unpredictable environment is like, and who identify with each other.
Their fellow working actors, and those members of the Screen Actors Guild who identified themselves as working actors (whether employed or not) were ready to hear a plea for change. Shared experiences and shared frustrations proved fertile ground to generate a grass roots movement and respond with a new voice to those who they perceived as representing the status quo. While the National Board of the Screen Actors Guild, its contract negotiating committee, its staff and their counterparts in AFTRA may have indeed came back with the best possible contracts and highest compensation, those “on the outside” could not easily be convinced of that. For most individuals the question is “what have you done for me?” In this case those who work in commercials and stunts for a living felt the answer was “not enough.” Sufficient numbers of actors, as the audience, were easily absorbed by the Alliance's message, because they did, indeed, perceive it as true. (Combs & Mansfield, 1976). Whether coincidentally or purposely, by paralleling the founding fathers of the Screen Actors Guild in their arguments of protecting the livelihood of all talent against real or perceived financial loss to the benefit of management, the Performers Alliance reflect Bormann's construct: "to evoke the well worn grooves of emotional response that occur when a vision parallels an already established social reality which has been widely shared." (1982) The Alliance found unifying elements in their appeals for the support of the working actor in the very rhetorical foundation of the union movement and more specifically the roots of their own union. (Bormann, 1982).
Strategies for Change
A shared rhetorical vision formed as the Alliance began to congeal into a unified force for change. By joining in the vision, members of the Alliance began to focus on how, working together, they could achieve desired change. The shared fantasy was one of being able to “put SAG back on track” as a union representing the interest of primarily actors in being able to make a living in the trade they love so much. Illustrating the model of a chain effect, going from individual to small group, to other groups, to larger group, to the media and in the near future to the board room, in a few short months what began as a small community of actors meeting at their homes, became a formalized political movement for change and a common future. (Bormann, 1985). These actors went from concentrating on individual careers to being willing to contribute often-large amounts of time and portions of their personal income toward the advancement of their alliance and its missions.
The Alliance chose a multiple front approach to forcing or agitating toward change. Their grievance was presented through all available communications channels, with the clear aim of creating opinion within the Guild and the Hollywood community favorable to their cause. They staged media events designed to embarrass the power structure and edge them toward the desired change. They lobbied one-on-one with fellow actors in the workplace, in workshops and on the streets. They sent out publicity releases, created public relations scenarios, stood vigil outside joint board meetings and actively lobbied existing board members to their point of view. Finally, they chose to challenge the incumbent board in the direct court of union elections. The need for any form of violent confrontation was averted, and may never have been planned. The emotional level of the protestors and the Performers Alliance movement was high enough, that had the establishment chosen direct confrontation or to completely close the doors to protest, violence was within the realm of possibilities. Phase three of the Stewart, Smith and Denton’s dramatic lifecycle of social movements was in full form. Herein lie the differences between the Steward model and the Davis model. For Davis these actions would be titled “propaganda”, which is the second step in the Davis “cycle of change.”
Risking potential violation of National Labor Relations law, the Alliance took the battle to the offices of casting directors, where they received permission to gather signatures, pass out leaflets and solicit members. (J. Hookey, personal communication, 1999) Since the casting directors (considered management) did not actively encourage or coerce actors visiting their office to sign on with the Alliance, the potential for a court challenge of their movement was minimized, although not entirely eliminated. Early on a moral decision was made that in order to have access to the voting members of SAG, and thus counter the inherent advantage of the incumbents they opposed, the risk was a necessary one. (confidential personal communication, 1999)
Interpersonal communications skills were applied in the formative weeks, by communicating their anger, beliefs and plans one on one with casting directors, agents and their primary target of those actors who were actively seeking work. They quietly lobbied on the sets of productions, in coffee shops, in restaurants and wherever actors congregate. In mid 1998 the Performers Alliance claimed their position and rhetorical vision helped membership grow to over 20,000 actors. By mid year 1999, PA unsubstantiated membership claims rose to over 60,000 members. For perspective, there are just under 100,000 active members of the Screen Actors Guild and 126,000 card-carrying members. While the organization had not come out for or against merger, many of its members were opposed to merger on the grounds that it would water down or decrease control of the Guild by working actors. (Robb, 1999)
In 1997 a hard fought and hard negotiated three year commercial contract agreement was approved by the national membership of the Screen Actors Guild, but not until after vocal protest by the Alliance, whose members were upset because of the relatively low compensation package for commercials which air on cable when compared to national or spot market broadcast contracts. These protests were heard both inside and outside the confidence of the National Board room, including "off the record" speeches made to the closed joint national boards of SAG and AFTRA Friday evening, January 16, 1998, at the invitation of then SAG President Richard Masur and AFTRA President Shelby Scott. At this meeting leaders of the Performers Alliance, which represented itself as "working professional commercial actors" strongly voiced their dissatisfaction over the commercial contract. For reasons of professional security, their names are not in the public record.
The Performers Alliance target audience was found in three directions, each requiring a different combination of rhetorical vehicles and environments. The first was to let their voice be heard by the National Board of SAG. To do this they earned allies within the existing board, passed on a petition to let their views be known, and spoke out clearly in the trade press, which, slave to advertising from the producers and production companies, seemed anxious to amplify discontent or disagreement amid the unions. As an information filter, The Hollywood Reporter, and to a lesser extent Daily Variety and the Los Angeles Times, proved to be sympathetic transmitters of the intended message. (Sharf, 1986.) Their second audience consisted of fellow actors, approached in person, through mailings and by exposure to press coverage of events. The third audience was the general public, a difficult target as the majority of the public, even in a company town like Los Angeles, find it hard to understand how the relatively high wages earned by SAG actors when they work, could be seen as endangered or poverty level based on the small amount of work actually available.
The Performers Alliance used strong rhetoric and argument, using the media as a primary channel, before entrenching and taking the political election avenue to meet their goals. While their goals and their intent are the same as the existing National Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild, there may have been a need for the Alliance to position itself as outsiders fighting for fundamental change in order to drive home the specifics of their agenda, including protection from what they see as abuse by the powerful cable and satellite segments of the industry.
Within the first few meetings the decision was made to work within the system, while also bringing their fight to the streets. They sought proactive change within their unions, rather than to establishment of a new order or radical change to the entire entertainment union structure. To accomplish this, the commercial actors who formed the PA chose early on to actively recruit high profile individuals who could help their cause from the “top down” within both unions. These recruited opinion leaders included, but were not limited to, John Connolly (a regular in police dramas and films who works out of both New York and Los Angeles), Paul Napier (established commercial actor and already an example of top down movement leadership as a major behind the scenes player within the system in AFTRA), Patrick Pankhurst (a recognizable Los Angeles character actor who served as the Alliance’s unpaid campaign and public relations director), Gordon Drake (a commercial actor who also owns and operated an Internet Design and Advertising firm) and Sumi Haru (a television talk host, actress, Asian-Pacific Community Activist, former acting President of SAG and at the time AFL-CIO 6th Vice President.). Television and industrial actor Chuck Sloan added his background as a speechwriter and his talents as a handler, by becoming the primary advisor to the 1997 and later 1999 slate of officers. (PA 1999, httm)
The Performers Alliance became a political force to take seriously when they threw up informational picket lines at the national headquarters of SAG, on Sunset Boulevard. Their petition drive led SAG’s Western National Board (those members who live in Hollywood or states geographically closer to Hollywood than New York City) to vote against the commercial contract by only one vote. At a meeting of the remaining board members in New York City the vote was nullified as all of those who voted in the eastern board session voted for the contract, giving it a clear majority of the full National Board. When the contract was sent to the membership for ratification, it earned a traditional overwhelming approval vote. Here is a direct conflict between the fantasy and the reality. Alliance members blamed the entire board for the terms of the new commercials contract, and sought to defeat not only those who voted against their interest, but even those who supported them (confidential personal communication, ).
Partial Victory and Unexpected Allies
“SAG dissidents rule election but Masur back” was a headline on the cover of the Hollywood Reporter. (Robb, 1997). Richard Masur handily earned reelection in 1997 to a second two year term as the national president of the Screen Actors Guild, however most of his loyal slate of incumbents, including those vice president offices assigned to the Hollywood membership, was defeated. The exception was also an often-dissonant voice, Sumi Haru who is on the record as being against merger. She served as “acting president” after previous National SAG President Barry Gordon resigned to run for Congress, up to the election of Richard Masur to his first term as president. As the incumbent first vice president and possible next in line for the presidency, Haru chose to run against New York actor and Performers Alliance member John P. Connolly for national recording secretary. The official nominating committee had selected Connolly, who retained his seat on the National Board elected by the New York City Branch. (Robb, 1997)
Sumi Haru later resigned her seat as first Vice President, citing time conflicts with a similar role in AFTRA and her elected position as the first ever performer to serve as the 6th Vice President of the powerful AFL-CIO. It can be speculated that her differences with Masur over merger, and the structure of national committees (Haru favors a Hollywood dominance in committee membership) may have been the true reasons for her resignation. This set the stage for a 1999 run for the First Vice Presidency of SAG, with Haru jumping to the Performer's Alliance slate, against Masur crony Amy Aquino. Under SAG's constitution, Haru maintained her seat on the National Board despite her resignation from her officer position. Reflecting SAG as a Hollywood based union, the first vice president, who serves as president in the absence of, or at the will of, the president, is an elected position selected by the Hollywood and General Membership. (SAG Constitution)
In the 1997 elections, the Performers Alliance earned fourteen of the nineteen Hollywood seats up for election, defeating board members who have been seated incumbents for ten, fifteen and in one case twenty-seven years. Following the 1997 elections, thirty-six additional Hollywood seats were filled by current incumbents who would end their three-year terms between 1998 and 2000. After the election in 1997 the Performers Alliance held one third of the Hollywood Board seats and fourteen percent of the overall National Board vote. Following an apportionment formula set forth in SAG's national Constitution and By-Laws, there are 105 seats on the National Board of the Screen Actors Guild. While still working in a phase three move (Stewart, Smith and Denton, 1989) the Alliance was, through its own 1997 victory, moving into phase four, maintenance, while there were still battles to fight. The question was, would the Alliance remain unified and consistent in this new position within the existing institutional system?
The Theatrical Film and Television Contest
As members of the Screen Actors National Board of Directors, in the spring of 1998, the Alliance spearheaded a movement to defeat the Theatrical (film) and Television Contract. Under Phase one of a merger plan, the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA jointly negotiated most national contracts with management. Already evident was some division, as several vocal members of the Alliance jumped ship and argued for contract ratification.
Unsuccessful in board room efforts to block the contract, the remaining Performers Alliance members garnered a 40% support level among the joint boards of SAG and AFTRA to force a minority report to be sent to the national membership. It set a new precedent. SAG President Richard Masur and AFTRA National President Shelby Scott were in a position to block this effort, as there are no provisions allowing or governing minority reports from the joint boards in any Phase I merger document. Instead they chose to bring the issue to the eastern joint section board in New York City. That body strongly turned down any such report. Further breaking established precedent, principally because the Performers Alliance is a predominately Los Angeles coalition, Masur and Scott decided to allow the western joint boards to vote on the minority report motion which was made in New York and turned down there. Under normal circumstances a defeated item would not show up on the deferred agenda of the western body. The vote to send out a minority report met with an overwhelming western majority, for a combined national percentage in excess of 40%. At this point it becomes clear that the Alliance had become a part of the governing body the officers and staff needed to work with, listen to and if necessary placate to achieve their own individual goals or agendas. (SAG Web)
Over 70% of the Guild’s membership reside in greater Los Angeles and the General Membership. Under 50% of AFTRA’s membership lives in California (Los Angeles figures would be misleading as the two unions do not define their city geographies in a common way). The PA, therefore, would have to sway the majority of voters in the west to support the minority stand to be victorious in defeating the contract. In a tactical move they assumed that the rhetoric which played well to those making a living in Hollywood would also convert the membership whose earnings were less tied to Los Angeles and more to regional and local contracts and production.
The theatrical contract did pass. As reported on the Screen Actors Guild Web Site on Thursday, July 2, 1998 only 22.2% (27,127) of the 122,295 eligible voting members of AFTRA and SAG cast ballots. Of those who cast votes, 70% (18,539) were for the contract and 30% (7,916) opposed it. (SAG Web)
Following the 1998 elections the Hollywood percentage reversed and in 1999 the PA managed to sweep into a 90% majority of the Hollywood board, and with it over 40% of the National board. Because of the importance of Hollywood, a PA victory over three elections also guaranteed majority control of the most powerful national committees and the appointment, and after earning the presidency in 1999, of the chairs of all national committees.
It is important to once again affirm that members of the Screen Actors Guild are not paid or compensated for the time they commit to serve on Guild boards, committees or participate in voluntary services for the membership of their union. As with the board members they replace, the newly elected Alliance members have committed to between two and three years of service, ranging from ten or so hours a week to, when you include travel and phone calls, full time to the benefit of and advancement of their fellow actors. (Scott & Brock, 1972).
During the 1997 formation period, the Performers Alliance had not endorsed a candidate for president, noting that their political advisor and campaign manager Patrick Pankhurst indicated Masur would win his bid for reelection handily, despite holding many beliefs, which are contrary to those of the Alliance. In press coverage of the 1997 election, SAG President Richard Masur welcomed their dissenting voice, saying “it’s a very positive development that a group of active, working performers has gotten involved in the process and put so much energy and focus into getting elected. It always helps this union when active, working people are engaged in the process." (Robb, 1997)
In 1999, jumping ahead to after the election, this proved valuable, as Richard Masur, not a supporter of the Alliance, proceeded to make decisions to allow the Alliance an often-unprecedented leeway in both the boardroom and in access to the general membership. While he could have chosen to use his position as National Board Chair under Roberts Rules of Order to control the room and limit the voice of the PA minority, on many occasions Masur went the other direction, granting many liberties to Performers Alliance speakers. (SAG, personal communication, )
In what would become a potential political misstep, a small group of members of the Alliance were invited by New York Board member John Connolly to address the joint boards of AFTRA and SAG, meeting as committee of the whole, to voice their concerns about the impact of the new commercials contract on their livelihood. This meeting occurred prior to the election, and may have been done as a way to defuse the potential impact of Alliance dissatisfaction. At the meeting, Masur was joined by others in the room in inviting the dissenting commercial actors to join in the regular union political process and work toward the changes they so strongly believe in. In effect, the establishment defused some of the “devil” image, by appearing willing to work with the dissenters. To Masur's frustration, the group took him to heart, not by joining the existing political process, but by solidfying as an opposition party in the form of the Performers Alliance. The dissidents continued to a lack of action and in some cases steps in a direction differing form their own by Masur and the elected leadership. John Connolly later converted to Masur's team and helped to form Pro-Act, a hastily assembled movement to counter the Performer Alliance and its momentum. (Pro-Act and PA Web)
The Alliance created a platform that dealt primarily with aggressively challenging the status quo with producers and increase both compensation and employment guarantees for working union actors. Members tended to align with those against a merger with AFTRA, but fragmentation on this issue among the Alliance is high. The Performers Alliance was concerned that SAG has lagged behind in protecting performers in the commercial, cable and new technologies fields.
A Perceived Need for Change
With a rallying cry of "take back your union", the Alliance came from outside the normal decision making establishment, responding to what they perceived as their union’s violation of the basic moral obligation to protect the well being, livelihood and interest of all of the membership in those unions. The PA advocated rejection of contracts and the direction those contracts reflected, in favor of a fundamental, traditional approach to flexing union muscles and gaining larger concessions from management. The Performers Alliance and its allies responded with emotional and yet well organized venting of grievances and a call for action, both by calling for the defeat of specific contract ballots and by running for political office for no other reason than to unseat union incumbents. With the 1997, 1998 and 1999 union elections, Alliance candidates captured all but two of the three-year seats representing Hollywood on the National Board of Directors. In the less than four years from its founding, the PA captured all of the national officer positions, controlling interest in the powerful National Executive Committee, the chair position on all national committees and just shy of 40% of the voting seats on the Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors.
The social changes sought came down to the very basics of compensation for their time and talents in relation to changes in the technological and professional world of entertainment, a battle they see as one fought over their very economic and career survival. (Bowers, Ochs and Jensen, 1993)
Organizing Methods and Rhetoric
Fueled by its initial 1997 success in capturing the majority of the Hollywood Board seats (and with it one third of the National Board), political ambitions and far deeper concerns than one contract, PA founders sought a more stable organization to reach out to a more diverse membership. They did so by targeting SAG members whose self-perception is as under represented working actors regardless of actual income or which contracts they work under. Reflecting rhetorical methods outlined by Lippman, the PA has taken the upper hand by defining the terms, building a positive fictitious or constructed personality for themselves and painting anyone who is not with them with the broad brush of status quo and being responsible for weak contracts. (1922) In effect, the PA became the union within a union, fighting for the rank and file from within. At one point, their web banner read "pro-union, proud of it and fighting for it." (PA Web Page, 1999) By laying claim first and strongly to various changes and innovation within the union since their formation, the PA takes credit for not just their own victories, but projects launched and piloted by their opposition. All positive action by the Guild since the PA's first electoral victory are proudly taken full credit for by the PA, whether or not they were actually instrumental in the change. In the tradition of Hollywood publicists, the PA applied the old adage that it is not who is first, or right, but who takes credit first and loudest.
In the time since their formation over one contract issue, the PA has built itself into a highly successful political faction which threatens to continue to be the catalyst of the largest shift in mission and position for the Screen Actors Guild in over a quarter of a century. In doing so, they contributed to the 1999 formation of a counter movement, which has labeled itself Pro-Active (or Pro-Act). Formed as a defensive reaction to the PA, Pro-Act chose to imply identification with actors and in doing so the name of the union they feel they represent. At the same time they took on a more all inclusive catch phrase which was coined earlier on by the rival PA itself, a call for a Pro-active union, open to its membership and working toward a positive future. Pro-Act, which was launched in Los Angeles and spread to a national organization, immediately enlisted the support of the branches of the Screen Actors Guild outside of Hollywood and of
performers less dependant on a single source of income from commercials or under "Hollywood" based contracts. In 1999, incumbent two-term president Richard Masur led the Pro-Act political slate against equally recognizable character actor William Daniels and the PA slate. This decision set the stage for a battle of working actor celebrities.
In an article under the headline "Hollywood Veterans in fight to lead Actors Union", Los Angeles Times reporter James Bates wrote about Masur and Daniels:
Both are veteran actors, and both are starring in roles neither especially relishes. One of the bitterest fights in years at a Hollywood talent guild is pitting Richard Masur, veteran of films and television shows such as "Picket Fences," against Emmy-winning actor William Daniels, known for roles in such shows as "St. Elsewhere" and "Boy Meets World," for presidency of the Screen Actors Guild. As the incumbent leader of the union that represents 96,000 mostly out-of-work actors--one that over the years has been headed by the likes of Ronald Reagan, James Cagney, Ed Asner and Charlton Heston--Masur has been under fire from Daniels and other dissidents, who say that the guild has rolled over when negotiating with producers and studios.
"The union has been pussycats with the industry for years and years and years," Daniels said. "They need somebody who will go to the wall for them. There's nobody in this town who frightens me."
(November 2, 1999, p. )
The nature of a membership who is transient, moving from employer to employer and who are in an almost constant state of seeking employment, is explored in the continuation of the article by Bates:
Such complaints aren't unique to SAG, but are echoing regularly throughout all the talent guilds. Hollywood's writers, directors and actors are restless in part because they believe the guilds--whose members have always been plagued by chronically high joblessness because of intense competition for entertainment work--haven't been tough enough in making financial gains. The discontent has grown in the wake of the explosion of the lucrative cable television and foreign markets for producers and studios, and as studios tighten the purse strings. Veteran actors complain of regularly being offered "scale plus 10%," a term that describes being offered just 10% above SAG's basic pay scale. As Daniels puts it, the paltry cable TV residual checks actors receive tell the whole story best. (Bates, 1999)
The founders of Pro-Act defended their position in a statement distributed on the Pro-Act Web Site:
ProAct is a national coalition of active, experienced, working Screen Actors Guild performers who intend to refocus the Guild's energy on those forces that threaten the livelihood of all professional performers. These include cutbacks in wages and residuals, factionalism and strife within our Guild, out-of-country production, corporate globalization, employer contract abuse, and new technologies.
At the same time we are committed to maintaining and advancing the pro-active work begun under President Masur's leadership in the past five years: an aggressive response to U.S runaway production, increasing diversity in casting, a commercials residual monitoring program with the potential for recovering millions of dollars for members, the innovative outreach campaign to independent and digital filmmakers netting thousands of jobs for performers and equally more signatories to the Guild contracts, putting an end to abuse of the voucher system, highly effective legislation at both state and federal levels resulting in new protections for performers. (Pro-Act Web, 1999)
Richard Masur let the LA Times know that most of the claims of accomplishments and change since the PA's surfacing in 1997, were in fact done under and as a result of his administration:
Masur believes that Daniels' supporters are selling his administration short on its accomplishments in negotiating contracts and making legislative gains and on important, big-picture issues such as helping to attract attention to the issue of producers moving film and TV production to Canada to save money. He also is making an issue of Daniels' admitted lack of experience in union affairs, what he said is his naivete on a number of union strategies and the lack of specifics on just what he and his supporters would do differently. What's more, he argues, many of the actors who are supporting Daniels are SAG board members who supported policies and administrative decisions they are now criticizing. (Bates, J. Los Angeles Times, 11-2-99)
Since 1997 both sides are attempting to facilitate or mitigate change though the use of a wide range of public relations tools to persuade and mobilize an apathetic membership. As a model, their rivalry provides a case study of the effective use of marketing and public relations within an established union by dissidents.
The PA played a key role in derailing a long sought after proposed merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Under PA attack, the 1998 Theatrical Contract passed by a slim 8% in membership ballot returns. In early fall, 1999, the PA came close to defeating the first proposed dues increase in over a decade. The timing of the dues referendum, made necessary by the defeat of a merger with AFTRA, could not have been better for the PA. Performers Alliance members lined up in significant numbers against merger. While in the board room only 5 of 96 board members present opposed the dues structure, both sides knew that the proposal would find displeasure with both the lower and highest earners within the Guild. The slim passage of the dues increase only two months prior to the 1999 elections left the less informed rank and file dissatisfied with their national board. From the results of these closely timed referendums, it can be projected that up to 40% of the membership of the Screen Actors Guild are exposed to and may be sympathetic to at least part of the mission of the PA. Without shifting to a more sympathetic national image, need to find a way to take majority control of the National Board. To do so they needed to attract background talent, pro-branch and limited income members.
In addition to contracts and their stated mission of saving SAG for those who work, the PA has also taken up arms against high level paid staff, whom they accuse, with some legal justification, of manipulating the results of elections, determining the policies of the union and leading the membership by their noses. In particular two staff members, who acted as tellers, or clerks, in the internal board election for representatives to the National Executive Committee, Katherine Moore and Catherine York, were targeted for their alleged bias in counting ballots and ruling on the legitimacy of contested ballots. This attack went so far as to include the hiring of a neutral arbitrator in an official election challenge, resulting in a finding that showed no conclusive evidence either way. Moore, York and Masur therefore became flag individuals, used in an emotional battle to discredit the existing administration and staff and reflect a need for social change within the Guild (Bowers, Ochs, Jensen, 1993). In early April of 2000 an outside consulting firm, Towers Perrin out of Minneapolis, was contracted to survey the board and membership on their trust of SAG's senior staff and leadership. (Robb, 2000) It is all part of a rhetoric of change, which if repeated enough through public relations channels, may be believed by the membership and taken as fact as opposed to opinion.
Once A David
Using the David vs. Goliath model, the conflict pits a minority of members of the Screen Actors Guild against the powerfully established political powers within the board and what they see as the status quo nature of Guild staff. They also pit themselves, as new and reform minded members of the political process, against the large and formidable forces of management, the producers, studios and corporations for which Guild members work. They see themselves as being able to do what previous boards have been unable to do, gaining radical concessions and ground in the name of actors as professional laborers from employers. The Alliance also sees SAG at the forefront of the battle to stem the growth of and reverse the flow of the California and national “right to work” movements toward laws that in many ways hamstring labor unions in their ability to “encourage” membership and limit benefits to those members. In the battle with management, Alliance members also wish to regain jobs lost to Canada and other countries at the cost of employment for American based union actors. While the official line presented a loss of jobs to actors in the United States, campaign literature and observations of board room rhetoric make it clear that for the PA, the protection of jobs in Los Angeles from productions leaving the state of California is the prime consideration of its membership. This would eliminate concern for the employment of union members who live outside of Greater Los Angeles. From the rostrum at the December 1999 National Board Plenary, board member Rick Barker, a professional stunt performer, referred to Las Vegas and Texas as examples of "runaway production" which needed to be stopped. His fellow PA delegates applauded him. (SAG minutes plus observation of researcher)
Looking at the National Board as an audience for the Performers Alliance's message, the initial picket lines and petition gave national staff and eastern board members reason to be concerned when the western board narrowly voted against sending the contract, which was opposed by the PA, to the membership. The effect of the November 1999 elections have yet to be seen, but by defeating even friendly sitting board members, the Alliance sent a clear message to those board members whose terms were not up for election. At least among the Hollywood membership, there is a desire for change and for action in what the membership, as a larger audience, perceives to be their cumulative interest. (Bormann, 1972).
The Performers Alliance sought change through both rational and emotional discourse on the future of the professional actor, by appealing to the majority of actors who see their real income from acting decreasing as new technology makes increasing use of talent and image outside the more traditional and well negotiated areas of normal compensation. The growth of cable, for example, has led to a dramatic increase in viewership and with it exposure for actors without any significant additional compensation. The PA was born in the middle of a period of rapid technological change, of major changes in media consumption patterns, of ownership changes (including mergers and acquisitions), of political pressure on both sides of the merger issue, of increased "runaway production" (at first defined as any work that left Greater Los Angeles and now defined more politically correctly as production which is leaving the U.S. in favor of foreign facilities, unions and exchange rates), and of declining pay rates (when producers are landing talent for scale or even worse, non-union talent at far below scale) and decreasing income against cost of living. The Alliance argument has grounds, a valid claim and sufficient warrant to have generated an active audience in both protest and the election.
Entering the Mainstream
Within the boardroom, Performers Alliance members showed many of the traits associated by veteran union board members to newly fired up freshman members. They feel they have to be heard often, showing a need to speak, even when they are repeating points already well made by others. As President Richard Masur was relaxed in his exercise of the powers dictated under Robert Rules of Order in allowing much of this expression to occur, noting that freedom of expression and a sharing or venting of ideas is part of what a democratic union should be about. During the last two years of Masur's presidency, the Alliance consistently showed its Los Angeles bias, voting as a block against waivers or issues brought up specifically to address geographically unique problems effecting actors in branches outside of the greater Los Angeles or New York area. They spoke of their “mandate” and their “constituency”, without reflecting on the dual role of board members. (SAG minutes and researcher observations) As long time board member Joe Ruskin states, “on this board, you wear several hats. The two most important are those of representing performers, as you understand them, and remembering that this is a national union with international effects, and what you do effects union members everywhere.” (Ruskin, 1999, interview)
In truth, the active members of the Alliance and their supporters entered the process, not as unionists, but as examples of segments of the workers the unions were empowered by for representation. Their interest may not be for the larger goals of the union, or of the union movement. For this reason, they may reflect more the building blocks of which unions are constructed than the larger idealistic agenda or mission.
Amid the adventure of a high profile glamour industry, international in scope, involving rapid changes in technology, the erosion of the labor movement and the intrigue of big business, this group of union idealists chose to take the time and energy necessary to take on Goliath, and Goliath’s brother. The path ahead seemed one of boardroom intrigue, learning, growth and challenge.
The New Power
While avoiding a direct statement of the subject of merger, in 1998 the Performers Alliance lent its membership, expertise and support to a movement self titled "Save SAG." This top down movement began as a minority in the boardroom and filtered down to garner membership support against the planned merger with AFTRA. They perceived the merger constitution, dues structure and documents as an absorbing of SAG by AFTRA rather than a true and equitable merger. In solidarity with the Alliance and its mission, Save SAG also noted that in the new union actors would become the minority and there was a good chance a broadcaster or music recording artist could be the president of what was once an actors' union. This battle is significant, as the leaders of the PA are by professional necessity, members of both unions.
In early 1999 the proposed SAG-AFTRA union merger was defeated, in what then president Richard Masur classified as "a very definitive result…a mandate." With 42.5% of the membership voting, 52% voted against merger. The referendum required a 60% vote in favor for the new union to be born. The PA influence, through Save SAG, was felt, as on the AFTRA side a solid two thirds majority voted in favor of merger. Both unions needed to achieve 60% of their individual membership for merger to take effect. (trade media and SAG Website)
As a long time proponent of merger, Masur found himself fighting to assure that relations with AFTRA remain solid and that the post-merger vote unions would not come out feuding. He had built a solid relationship with AFTRA staff, officers and the AFTRA board of directors. He felt he should be the one to assure a peaceful transition from the movement toward merger to a world where the unions will remain separate but equal. To move toward that goal, he felt he needed to seek a third term of office, something only his predecessor Barry Daniels had succeeded in doing in the past.
Entering what reporter Dave Robb of the industry daily The Hollywood Reporter called the most hotly contested election in the history of the screen Actors Guild, Masur and Pro-Act came out slugging. The foundation of the forces of change in the entertainment industry and within the Screen Actors Guild are presented by Richard Masur in this extensive interview the Hollywood Reporter of August 23, 1999:
Launching his campaign for a third term as president of the Screen Actors Guild, Richard Masur lashed out at the "divisiveness and factionalism" that has split the guild's board in recent years. Masur didn't name names, but it's clear that he is particularly irked by the behavior of some members of the Performers Alliance, a dissident faction that now holds a majority of the seats on SAG's Hollywood board.
"One reason for feeling that I need to run for the presidency one more time is the level of factionalism that has entered the SAG board room," Masur said. "Two years ago, a group of highly motivated performers came together and ran for the board out of a sense of frustration with what they saw as the failings of the current leadership. This was not in-and-of itself a bad thing. Many of the best leaders this union has ever produced have come in angry and frustrated. However, the best of those leaders listened, learned and matured as they spent more time being a part of the process, and realized how to become effective and productive members of this organization's political structure.
"In this case, however, that process seems not to be working. Though some have learned and changed and become effective, many others who have come in on a platform of negativism seem to be clinging to that negativity as a way of maintaining their power base among the members.
"There is nothing wrong with dissent and disagreement in a deliberative body like the SAG board of directors. There is everything wrong with personal attacks, staff bashing and obstructionism. In the last year, the guild's board in Los Angeles has spent an enormous amount of time on personal issues and procedural questions, which do not put a single dollar into any member's pocket. Rather than keeping our focus on the vital questions of runaway production, diversity, contract enforcement and commercial monitoring ... we are constantly being forced to put our attention on issues which I believe the members have no interest in and do not benefit them in their professional lives."
The same interview included what amounted to a declaration of war against the founders and leaders of the PA:
Masur feels "very strongly that this mood of divisiveness and factionalism must stop ... and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that those who are creating this mood are either educated, and adjust their behavior, or are no longer on the board."
It was clear that Masur failed to understand an undercurrent in the Screen Actors Guild which prefers to retain a "citizen legislature" which is closer and therefore more responsive to their perceived needs. The Times article continues:
Masur, who has received the nomination of SAG's official nominating committee, said his decision to run again "was a very difficult decision. At the end of this term, I will have spent 10 years as a board member, vice president and president. Since I've been president, I have essentially done this as a full-time job, only taking time off to seek acting work and to do acting work. It has been very hard on my career and on my family life, and if I didn't feel it was such an important time, I wouldn't be running again."
The interview also highlights a common ground with his opponents in acknowledging changes ahead in the industry. These very changes could threaten the delicate balance of jurisdiction between SAG and AFTRA:
"This so-called digital revolution presents enormous challenges to all of us in the industry," Masur said. "Adjustments and adaptations will have to happen very rapidly and in very imaginative ways. We have begun that process here at SAG through the creation of our low-budget agreements and through our innovative and successful film festival and trade-show program. By dealing directly with independent filmmakers, by educating them to the possibilities of working with trained professional performers, we have signed thousands of projects creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for our members."
"Another focus of mine has been to avoid the horrible problems of jurisdictional warfare that these new technologies create for SAG and AFTRA," he said. "I feel that it's vital that I stay here to complete the process on which we have embarked to separate our jurisdictions once and for all. If we can accomplish that, we can benefit all performers and be in a position to help each other instead of undercutting each other."
To that end, he said: "We're trying to draw bright lines between what is SAG work and what is AFTRA work. We have overlapping jurisdictions in half-hour television and in television commercials, and those overlaps will be exacerbated by the new technologies of digital production. But even worse, digitally recorded hour dramatic series, longform television and even feature films will be additional areas of conflict for our two unions, which will cause our past problems to pale in comparison. We must divide these jurisdictions in a fair and sensible manner." (Robb, D, August 23, 1999)
With the sound defeat of the merger documents in a membership referendum, the Performers Alliance found itself as the champion of the majority view within the voting rank and file. On the heels of a 1999 dues increase (one the PA strategically supported in the boardroom), the membership was primed for a complete change in their leadership. In late October 1999 a relatively low percentage of the Screen Actors Guild who voted, did just that. After a controversial and bitterly fought campaign, it was a Performers Alliance Landslide sweeping the one time David into the new Goliath. 2000 found the PA in the driver's seat going into negotiations of the contract whose provisions and only minor increases in the area of cable, led to the birth of the PA the last time the contract was up for renewal, in 1997.
It is important to note that of the national membership of the Screen Actors Guild, only Hollywood and New York faced significant local elections on the same ballot as the race for the key national officers. Voter response in the branches followed the historical pattern of being low, as for many branches local elections are in months other than November. For example, in Nevada officers and council are elected every second June. Also, since the PA did not mount a truly national offensive, many of the candidates for national vice president positions representing the branches ran unopposed, contributing to low turnout. The 8th Vice Presidency, which represents the majority of the geographic US, rotates between cities and does not require a traditional election. In what may have been a shrewd campaign decision, the PA focused only on those areas with major local elections simultaneous with the national ballot. (observation and SAG By-laws)
With the rapid success and growth of the Performers Alliance, the awakening of organized political support for the Masur administration and a need to reach out to those most effected by new technologies, younger talent, all factions in this political ballet almost simultaneously turned to the very media which represented their latest challenge, the Internet.
The Internet, Technology, Politics and the 1999 Elections
October 15, 1999: Screen Actors Guild National Election Ballots arrived in the mail of the over 99,000 dues-current voting members. For the first time, prominent in every candidate's 50-word statement, is a web address. In doing so the candidates declared affiliation with either the Performers Alliance (PA) or Pro-Act, a recently evolved factions within Guild government formed specifically to counter the PA. The web was being used to solidify political alliances and gain converts.
The primary "public" for the ballot is the "voting members" of the Screen Actors Guild. Since SAG guards its membership list as if it were Fort Knox, and makes it costly and therefore impossible for candidates to use the traditional campaign tool of direct mail, alternative low cost communications methods were advantageous for those seeking election or the advancement of their political views. For the most part, the Internet remains a free to very low cost method of reaching large numbers of a targeted public.
The Internet has involved into a key player in waging political war, without the expense or overkill of mass media. Web site and e-mail have earned a place in supplementing, if not supplanting, traditional direct mail and telephone solicitation. This trend may be illustrated in the development of an internal political battle within the Screen Actors Guild, a high profile union with a vested interest in remaining on top of cutting edge communications technologies.
Whether the use of the web to do anything other than organize and rally troops who are already activists within a particular political viewpoint, remains to be seen. The effectiveness of the use of these technologies to influence the national membership of the Screen Actors Guild may be an early test of the Internet's ability to persuade.
For candidates in the Screen Actors Guild, political budgets are low. Other than the tightly structured official ballot mailing, no Guild funds are used for campaigning. There is no direct financial gain in running for office. No member of SAG is paid for service within their union. Most suffer income loss. Elected officials oversee a paid staff.
This unique structure limits the financial commitment made in running for office or gaining political position to investments in a candidates personal belief, with no financial return, either direct or indirect. Holding office may actually cost a member in time lost work opportunities and close identification by management with the union movement. For these reasons, public relations and public perceptions have always been the primary tools for achieving change within the Screen Actors Guild.
The Performers Alliance came from outside the normal decision making establishment, responding to what they perceived as their union’s violation of the basic moral obligation to protect the well being, livelihood and interest of all of the membership in those unions. Ignoring offers by the existing power structure to become active within the committee structure, they chose instead to advocate rejection of contracts and the direction those contracts reflected, in favor of a back-to-basics square one approach to flexing union muscles and gaining larger concessions from management. The PA acted with emotional and yet well organized venting of grievances and calls for action, by calling for the defeat of specific contract ballots and by running for political office, for no other reason than to unseat union incumbents.
The PA, and its political objectives, provides a laboratory for studying the use of modern public relations' techniques in the micro-politics of a union.
Various PR "publics" targeted by the PA include members already active in Guild politics (converts), performers who earn all or part of their income under specific contract areas (co-workers), the Hollywood or General Membership, the Branches, the national membership, the "Hollywood" community and the national general public.
In 1997, the PA launched a web-site as a means of communication with their members. By mid 1998 it had evolved into a platform not only to reinforce member beliefs, but also to disseminate their version of the truth to a broader membership. All references in print (except for media coverage) to the PA contained their web address. Through the web site, and street membership drives, a large data base of e-mail contacts were collected to be used for frequent "releases" using the technology of broadcast e-mail to compliment traditional telephone committees and direct mail.
The selection of going to the web was made for three reasons. The first was as a means for existing supporters to access information without the expense of traditional print newsletters or the time commitment of phone committees. Second, it provided a directory medium for actors seeking information concerning not only their group but also the Screen Actors Guild. Creative links were established in various search engines to assure that inquiries would turn up not only the officially neutral union web page, but the PA as well. Over time the PA evolved from "pa.com" to "pro-actor.org." linked automatically to "pro-union.org". Third, the PA acknowledged that its base of power was almost entirely Hollywood. They needed to reach out to members in the rest of the country, whom they assumed were as angry over the same issues as they were. Initial web sit and e-mail outreach resulted in not only minimal results but accelerated the birth of and national appeal of the "loyal opposition" movement, Pro-Act. In content the assumption was made that what interested them in Hollywood was of interest to the national union. As a result, some of their web outreach may have backfired by putting too much importance on Hollywood. The PA web-masters did not research the diversity of contracts, earnings under contract, or local identities of a diverse geographic membership. A public relations mistake was made in the assumption that the "grassroots" of Hollywood represented the same "grassroots" appeal on a national union basis.
Using the Internet, combining the power of the web page (a pull technology which requires a member to actively seek information) and broadcast e-mail (a push technology where material is sent directly to the members' computer), the PA launched a final barrage prior to the mailing of official ballots. Their last volley included references to how much of the "attacks" and "claims" attributed to the Performance Alliance were actually sent out by the members of "Pro-Act" to mislead the membership. These defensive attempts to create an almost 1984 Orwellian mistrust and paranoia, came in the form of web-site posting, mass e-mail and a national mailing of traditional post cards to 56,000, or close to half of the Screen Actors Guild membership. In effect their final attempt to influence membership, and thus "public" opinion, came with a throwing of mistrust on everything and anything that had been claimed, and pointing a finger at the status quo (Pro-Act) as at fault. In what is labeled on the Performance Alliance Web Site with a large blue and red headline, "An Apology", the editor of the site writes:
Insults or Issues? The SAG National Elections are upon us and you can count on the Performers Alliance to do what it has always done, which is to address the issues that affect your ability to make a living as a professional performer. We believe that an informed membership is a powerful membership. You are about to be inundated with campaign literature, much of it insulting and untrue. Insulting to the PA members who have fought the good fight for over two years in the board room and before that in the living rooms of concerned and loyal SAG members during the formation of this grass roots movement, but more importantly, insulting to you the working class SAG member. Most of the mud slinging will emanate from the Richard Masur/ProAct camp, although they will claim that the vitriol comes from the Performers Alliance. ProAct is a group with the old guard at its helm. They are afraid that they will lose their power at the Guild very soon and apparently they feel threatened. The focus of their campaign would seem to be aimed solely at discrediting and eliminating the Performers Alliance. It's a message that broadcasts their fear of the truth and so they believe they must try to shoot the messenger. ProAct doesn't talk about their accomplishments or important issues. They simply hurl insults at the PA and take actions that seem intent on using their resources to thwart the democratic process. The Performers Alliance record speaks for itself. We have consistently fought for a more democratic union and for a more established performers to abandon their hard won quotes and face offers of scale plus 10% take it or leave it. (Drake, 1999)
This was one of the first in a series of volleys between sides in a battle of rhetoric fought through the Web. The ease of communications through the web site and e-mails created an escalating series of attacks and defenses, positioning and propaganda that perhaps because of the nature of the almost instantaneous nature of postings and mailings created dialogues that lacked the mediating filter of the public press and in some cases became harshly personal.
As it turns out, the only campaign material actually mailed to the entire national membership was sent by the PA itself, containing an unauthorized reproduction of a misleading, or incriminating note written by Richard Masur during a contract negotiation. From the Pro-Act Web site comes this response to the Performers Alliance mailing to the SAG membership in late October 1999:
CLAIM: "Actual note handwritten by Richard Masur at the 8/9/99 Commercial Contract Campaign Committee meeting."
FACT: The note has been taken completely out of the context in which it was written. The context was a highly confidential meeting at which strategy for the upcoming Commercial Negotiations was discussed. This note has been "spun" and its publication is a breach of confidentiality and a violation of Guild rules. (Shaw, J., 1999, Appendix III)
The last minute mailer, timed to arrive at the same time as the official ballots hit mailboxes, may have helped solidify the PA's position, while the statement reproduced above could have dissuaded Pro-Act from committing the sizable expense of a national mailing (over one dollar per name in processing fees by the Guild, which does the actual mailing to protect its membership lists from commercial or political abuse).
At the same time, PA Web Master Gordon Drake issued a press release over the PA Web site, via e-mail and in the media, threatening a lawsuit against Richard Masur for McCarthy type actions in "an effort to stifle debate…" quoting himself in his release Drake "announced that he had filed charges against Masur with the National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles, alleging that Masur's threats coerced, restrained and interfered with his exercise of his right to organize under the National Labor Relations Act." (PA Web, November 3, 1999, see Appendix II for full text).
One of many responses on the opposing Pro-Act web site, and sent to an unknown number of e-mail addresses, comes from a member of the National Board representing the Mid-West:
I have never been a member or supporter of a so-called "rump group" within any of the unions I so proudly belong to (AEA, AFTRA, SAG, AGVA). I do support PROACT because there has been a divisive faction (mainly in SAG, but also in AFTRA) for the past year and a half or so. Those people are detrimental to the health of all of our unions and if the unions themselves can't deal with them, for political or practical reasons, the concerned people like the PROACT folks must stem the tide of misinformation and down right lies of those people. I am somewhat concerned with some of the names on the founding members list, but nothing's perfect, as the fox said in 'The Little Prince'. Maybe they can be turned around to do the right thing. (Wright ,1999)
SAG Presidential Candidate William Daniel, through the PA web-site and their
e-mail broadcast, sent the following letter to the membership:
The first thing people ask me is "why are you running? You're a busy actor working in a series, so why put yourself through this?" My answer is that sometimes in life you are presented with some harsh realities and the reality is that our union is not representing it's members adequately.
Our union must provide us with a theatrical contract, which gives us (our rank and file members) the chance to make a decent living. We don't have such a contract! Our union must provide us with a commercial contract that is not a giveaway (unlimited usage in cable for 11 dollars a day.) We don't have that! Our union must enforce our contracts with vigilance - it doesn't. But mostly, the upper echelons of our union have shut their doors to our members and are hiding facts and figures from them, obstructing their elected board members from doing their job and spreading gloom and doom in order to make us comply with their agenda. It must stop, and if I'm elected, it will stop! (Daniels, 1999)
In a response to Daniels, a series of endorsements were posted on the Pro-Act web site including a direct response from actor Paul Hecht, who starred with Daniels in the original company of 1776 on Broadway:
What I discovered was that SAG is one of the finest if not the finest union in the country. Its contracts are admired throughout the world by arts unions and associations. Above all I discovered how its executives and employees were to actors and to the Guild. I discovered that to serve, as a volunteer on the board was an enormous and time-consuming job. Not for the faint of heart or stomach. I fear from what I have read that you don't have a clue what is in store for you. To listen to the ranting and raving of your supporters (some of whom I have served with) leaves me to fear not only for you but more important for the future of the guild and us, the working members. (Hecht 1999)
To review just how closely the two groups really were on mission and policy, read the following from their perspective web sites, starting with Pro-Act:
Pro-Act is a national coalition of active, experienced, working Screen Actors Guild performers who intend to refocus the Guild's energy on those forces that threaten the livelihood of all professional performers. These include cutbacks in wages and residuals, factionalism and strife within our Guild, out-of-country production, corporate globalization, employer contract abuse, and new technologies. At the same time we are committed to maintaining and advancing the pro-active work begun under President Masur's leadership in the past five years: an aggressive response to U.S. runaway production, increasing diversity in casting, a commercials residual monitoring program with the potential for recovering millions of dollars for members, the innovative outreach campaign to independent and digital filmmakers netting thousands of jobs for performers and equally more signatories to the Guild contracts, putting an end to abuse of the voucher system, highly effective legislation at both state and federal levels resulting in new protections for performers. (Pro-Act, 1999)
The PA had the upperhand by keeping their mission statement simple, and posting it at the top of all of their web pages and in most of their web-correspondences: To revitalize the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild and to restore its effectiveness through the active participation and influence of its working members. (PA, 1999)
In the final days between the mailing of the election ballots and their actual count, the Pro-Act Website took a soft sell approach in cautioning voters to beware the motives of change. The first came in a general quotation from an AFL-CIO official:
"FACTIONALISM AND STRIFE WITHIN OUR UNION
When people are under siege, they often turn against each other out of frustration, because resolving the larger issue with the actual opponent seems impossible. Therefore, it's easier to turn against the union because there's little the individuals perceive they can lose, whereas going against employers involves tremendous risk. It's exactly at times like these that leadership is necessary, to counter factionalism and to promote a vision and hope."
Bill Fletcher, Director of Education, AFL-CIO
On October 11, the following message was added, in a clear effort to appear as the moderate peace-maker of the two dissenting groups:
"We need to marshall our resources and aim our fire at the employers, not each other. We need to build a broad leadership of activist members-professional performers at every career level-who understand that a healthy, strong Screen Actor's Guild is crucial to their career and livelihood.
We need to spend our time and energies developing strategies to confront our powerful employers in a rapidly changing world. There is no time to waste on private agendas, do nothing board members, or the disgusting politics of slander, witch-hunting, prevarication and intimidation currently practiced by some members of the SAG Board.
- From an article by Ralph Morgan, President of Screen Actors Guild Hollywood California, February 1940
On October 15, a final section was added to the Pro-Act Website:
"...At this time, I would like to say a few words to all members. Through your loyalty and your steadfast readiness to live up to your obligations as members at all times, you, the rank and file have made possible whatever progress we have made. During these many battles your leadership has changed but I know that at all times these leaders sought only to be the voice of the majority. If in the future you are ever tempted-and I sincerely hope you are not-to give heed to the clamoring and accusations of the few whose sole desire is to tear down the foundations upon which your organization is built, I ask you to take time to look back. Look back and study the character and background of the individual officers and executives of your Guild, the Board of Directors. I ask you to compare them to what they have stood for in their years of effort in the performers' world with your estimate of those who are attempting to agitate you. In your own mind, ask yourselves what motive-other than to aid the Guild-could they have? What motive could those who seek to destroy or divert the Guild efforts have? When you have done this, I know that you will have once and for all settled the issue in your own minds. As for myself, I have no fear of your decision."
(Pro Act Web, October, 1999)
The use of the Internet in all its incarnations for public relations, political communications and in influencing decisions is a tool with its most effective uses yet to be found. Caution signs lie in the fast, instantaneous nature of e-mail, of web posting, transmission lists (list-trans), chat rooms, and web-casting, which can be easily abused or used without full preparation or thought. Also the ability to persuade remains to be proven. The Internet is a "peoples' medium" which does not rely on professionals or large organizations at the basic web site and e-mail levels. With speed and fast, easy access, comes a lessening of professional oversight and checks for accuracy. The Internet also allows for the fast and easy reuse and retransmission of both public and intended private messages. It is a public media that provides access to internal politics by the general public on a world scale. Airing dirty laundry in public and press access to the most vicious attacks are issues of ethical concern. Are Internet based politics effective in swaying votes? What is the proper positioning of Internet technology is in a Public Relations Promotional Mix? Can the Internet replace and therefore lower the cost of other forms of political campaigning and advertising; and finally, does it work?
An example of the web debate in the 1999 SAG National Election cycle, taken Sunday, October 17 1999 off the PA Web Site, which seeks to use its oppositions words adjacent them by taking full credit for all positive board action and laying blame for anything the membership may feel has gone wrong, as Lippmann would say, "the facts with disregard to the truth." (1922)
From the Performers Alliance web site, "SAG is being redefined to meet the challenges ahead. Yes, thanks to the Performers Alliance."
The Web could be an effective, but dangerous tool for Social Movements, because it seems to increase the heat of rhetoric, deepens divisions, and perhaps encourages radical positions. The debate between sides may lack the moderating effects of outside influences from the media, social commentators, public officials and other opinion leaders.
The Election Mandate
"They think they've won, they think they have a mandate and they think they are the union" states a Pro-Act founder and activist in confidence, "but we represent the numbers, the future of the industry and the real diversity of the union." (interview on April 7, 2000).
The 1999 election, and with it the 2000 National Board and Officers saw the largest single shift in power since the Dennis Weaver Day Player Rebellion of the 1970's, in which theatrical film and television actors ran successfully against a wide range of entertainers, commercial actors and celebrities who at the time were the incumbents and the status quo. A member of senior staff, 25 plus year SAG employee, interviewed in confidence, sees the PA's victory as even larger in number and impact on the future of the Guild than any single shift since the Guilds formation in 1933.
In national voting completed on Wednesday, November 3, 1999, just over 21,000 ballots were counted, representing a voting return of fewer than 22% of the national membership. William Daniels received 47.5 percent of the votes cast for President. Daniels’ opponents were incumbent Richard Masur, who garnered 42.5 percent and Angel Angeltompkins with 9.5 percent. The votes in other national offices were equally tight, with the local Los Angeles and the General Membership race for the First Vice Presidency decided by only 265 votes. In an election challenge through recount, the Performers Alliance earned the presidency and with it Second National Vice Presidency in New York. Every PA backed candidate for the Hollywood seats on the National Board earned victories, most within five percentage points of their Pro-Act opponents. Details and analysis may be found in Appendix I
A New Administration
The Performers Alliance took control of their union. Still lacking a majority in the national boardroom, the PA swept all of the nationally elected offices. William Daniels was elected president, defeating Richard Masur. The Performers Alliance also took the key first (LA), second (NY), third (LA), fourth (LA) and fifth (NY) Vice Presidencies, an over 80% majority of the Hollywood and General Membership board and solid control of the powerful National Executive Committee. Using the power of the pen, President William Daniels, at the bequest of his campaign manager Chuck Sloan, quickly replaced Masur chairs of all national committees with PA faithful. At his first two national meetings, he did not even acknowledge Branch or even New York Co-chairs. Branch affairs were also missing from the first two national meeting agendas, which were dominated by national and Hollywood issues. In New York 28-year-old Performers Alliance activist Lisa Scarolla unseated much older and long time incumbent New York President Mel Boudrot in a highly contested recount. The New York president automatically takes the national office of second Vice President.
The election of Daniels' represents a shift in the power structure and definition of responsibilities within the Guild. Masur believed in a strong presidency, supported by a competent and ongoing consistent experienced staff. He frequently referred to legal council and senior staff and allowed their full participation in boardroom debate. His administration was open to multiple viewpoints while pursuing a liberal political agenda that began with Dennis Weaver's ascent to SAG President in the 1970's. Daniels chooses to pass the chair at meetings on to the First or Second Vice Presidents (who are not elected by the national membership, but by the Los Angeles and New York membership respectively). He listens to his advisors and prefers to be a figure head leader and symbol over hands on dictator. Senior staff and legal are treated as advisory and are often limited to answering questions from the floor. The shift reflects a social victory by the PA away from the dictates and policy of a central presidency and a strong staff, in favor of an empowering of what they define as the membership and the individual elected members of the National Board of Directors. In doing so both administrations reflect extremes in the rhetoric of agitation and control as they relate to social change. (Bowers, Oches, Jensen, 1993)
Four months after winning control of the Screen Actors Guild, February of 2000 found the Performers Alliance minimizing their identification as the PA and maximizing their identification as the leaders of their union, the Screen Actors Guild. Actors on the Move, an official committee of the Guild, boasts over 60,000 signature cards agreeing to the use of their name, phone numbers and e-mail in union organizing activities. PA founder Chuck Sloan is chief advisor to the president, William Daniels, who prefers to allow First Vice President Sumi Haru on the west and Lisa Scarolla in the east, chair the sectional board meetings. Haru is elected only by the Los Angeles membership and Scarolla only by the New York membership, in effect leaving the union's national board chaired by individuals in whose election the national membership has no voice. Agendas to date have been heavy with Hollywood and SAG only issues, while light on branch affairs or items that would be of concern to joint SAG and AFTRA missions. Aggressive slogans such as "it's broke, let's fix it" and "take back your union" are being applied toward a "battle" to gain tremendous ground against producers in the joint SAG-AFTRA 2000-2003 Commercial and Industrial Contract negotiations, which began in March, 2000 in New York City. With the PA victory, and with one of the founding members of the Performers Alliance David Jolliffe at the head of SAG's portion of the contract negotiating team, Hollywood insiders are anticipating a full-blown strike, which many feel SAG will lose. In addition, the AFTRA portion of the negotiating team are not members of the Performer Alliance and have different agendas and goals than the PA dominated SAG team. (confidential interviews and researcher observations)
SAG's highly visible web site, a regular stop for industry professionals and those interested in the motion picture industry, is now under the direction of PA Webmaster Gordan Drake. Staff in the communications office now answers to successful PA candidate for Secretary Nancy Austin. The image and rhetoric of all SAG internal and external communications have become increasingly heated in union rhetoric and decreasingly influenced by the communications counterparts within AFTRA. Three months into the new administration, appointments to committees made by branch co-chairs have yet to be approved by the president. Much has been put on hold in favor of putting full efforts and supports behind the Los Angeles dominated contract committee and PA controlled Members on the Move contract rally efforts.
During their campaign the Performers Alliance choose to isolate key flag individuals to polarize the membership. These included Richard Masur, for his alleged dictatorial polities and inability to change, and key staff members, Katherine Moore and Katherine York, who edjudicated and assisted in a contested internal election by the Los Angeles Board for their representatives on the powerful National Executive Committee. The rallying issue were allegations of rigging the 1999 NEC election in favor of Masur supporters (Bowers, Ochs and Jensen, 1993) On April 14, 2000 two key senior staff members, the subject of PA allegations of election tampering in relations to the teller committee on a Hollywood Board vote for National Executive committee (NEC) representation, left by their own choice for other positions. Communications Director Katherine Moore to a non-disclosed position and Special Projects Director Catherine York, who left to become the Executive Vice President and a principal owner of start up internet niche auction service, GalaxyBid.com. (e-mail notifications from York 4/3/00, Moore 4/05/00). The new Communications Committee, under a former PA chair and make up primarily of PA appointees, will interview replacements for Moore, while a presidential appointed search committee will interview for York's position. Finalist for both jobs will be presented to the entire national board for ratification. In effect by mid-2000 the Performers Alliance will have had a major role in hiring two key communication and legislative agenda staff members.
Where the first internal revolution for SAG in over a quarter of a century will leave the union and its members is history yet to be written.