New SAG rules make it harder for comebacks

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Don't be a quitter.

That's the message behind some tough rule changes announced Wednesday by SAG on making it much harder for former members to rejoin the guild after dropping out. In large part, the changes are designed to discourage members from "going fi-core" by quitting the guild and continuing to pay partial dues to qualify for union productions.

There has been increased concern of late over the so-called financial-core provision of SAG's Rule One, which otherwise prohibits members from working on nonsignatory productions. Declaring fi-core status allows members to resign and withhold SAG dues earmarked for politicking. The practice stems from a 1988 Supreme Court decision in Communication Workers of America vs. Beck giving union members such rights.

But officials said they also were responding to an alarming number of instances in right-to-work states like North Carolina, in which SAG members quit the guild to exploit local provisions allowing them to work on SAG-signatory productions. Also, persons quitting for financial hardship or other reasons now will be more likely to take advantage of SAG's "honorable withdrawal" status or otherwise temporarily suspend payments while remaining a member of the guild, officials said.

"Sometimes it's just an educational matter," national organizing director Todd Amorde said. "But from this point forward, the presumption will be that their decision (to resign from the guild) is a permanent one."

The only way to gain reinstatement will be to go before a disciplinary committee and explain the decision to quit, Amorde said. The new SAG policy takes effect today, but members having previously resigned and who want to rejoin the guild under the simpler former procedures have until Dec. 31 to apply for reinstatement.

It's estimated that almost 1,800 actors are on fi-core status. That's still tiny compared with SAG's membership of almost 120,000, but guild officials were determined to devise a strategy to thwart any burgeoning fi-core movement.

It's been years -- since the 2000 commercials strike -- since the issue last rose to this level of scrutiny. Fi-core debate flared up anew after recent SAG efforts to discourage nonunion commercial shoots and reports circulated of guild members' being enticed to go fi-core on such jobs.

SAG's national board first discussed how to address the fi-core and right-to-work challenges at a meeting in April, Amorde said.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there, and the guild is re-asserting its position as the authority on union membership," the guild exec said. "Union membership is between the member and their union, not their agents, not casting directors and certainly not employers."

On Tuesday night, SAG held a membership meeting in Los Angeles to discuss strategy on another recent hot-button issue: securing a new franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents, governing commission structures and other matters. It has been more than five years since the last SAG-ATA pact expired.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg, national agency relations director Zino Macaluso and others addressed more than 300 SAG members on hand for the session. Similar informational meetings previously were held at SAG regional branches.

Back Stage West news editor Lauren Horwitch contributed to this report.
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