SAG negotiator Allen 'on thin ice,' or is he?

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In the wake of MembershipFirst losing the majority on SAG's national board — and losing seats on the Hollywood board as well — the big question facing the guild is this: Will national executive director Doug Allen keep his job?

As the chief negotiator for a new TV and film contract, Allen has given voice to what MembershipFirst has long wanted: a hard-line position in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers for a new deal — talks that have been stalled for close to three months.

Allen also has played a central role in the guild's antagonistic posture toward AFTRA; that has angered the national board members in New York and the regional branches that feel an affinity with their sister union.

Conversations with national board members Friday seemed to indicate that Allen is "on thin ice," as one national board member put it, but it is not certain that he will be fired.

Paul Christie, a national board member in New York and a former 2nd national vp, was the least reassuring when asked whether Allen would stay in his post. "If anybody is going to fire Doug Allen, it's Doug Allen," he said. "The one mandate he had was to not only represent the majority but to defend and represent the wishes of the minority, and he never did that at any turn."

A spokeswoman for SAG said Allen would not be available to comment until today. Ned Vaughn, who won a Hollywood board seat Thursday and is spokesman for opposition party Unite for Strength, did not return a call seeking comment. Unite for Strength won five national board seats and 13 alternate seats in the Hollywood division in last week's elections, giving the pro-merger forces an apparent majority on the national board.

Asked if there were any scenario by which Allen would keep his job, Christie replied: "Honestly, from my perspective, I can't give you a scenario where that works. I can't see any way. … I was one of the people involved in hiring him, and I can't give you a realistic appraisal where I would find some justification for keeping him on."

Allen was hired in late 2006 with support from every division in SAG: Hollywood, New York and the regional branches. But in mid-2007, when he pushed for bloc voting and stepped up his attacks on AFTRA, he made enemies of board members outside of Los Angeles, who have long favored a merger with their sister union.

However, Anne-Marie Johnson, a national board member in Hollywood and spokeswoman for MembershipFirst, said: "I don't think they realize how complicated it is — and I've been through it — to remove an NED. First of all, they have to find cause. That will be a very, very hard stretch for them."

Johnson, who has been on the board since 1997, voted to fire national executive director Greg Hessinger right after MF assumed the majority on the national board in 2005. Hessinger had held the job for less than a year. The guild went more than a year without a full-time NED until Allen took over in January 2007.

"As far as I know, Doug Allen's contract goes to January 2010," said one national board member who is part of the new majority. "Nobody ran on a platform of firing Doug Allen. Now, that does become a possibility. … But the question to be asked is, 'Is the firing of Doug going to help promote the big interest of the new majority, which is that we should merge our unions?' It is less than 24 hours that we have been in this position. We're the moderates. We are not the knee-jerk (folks) that fired Greg Hessinger."

Johnson questioned whether the pro-merger forces — Unite for Strength partisans and board members in New York and the regional branches — will have a clear majority on the national board. "Mathematically, to get anything done, they need 100% of the New York board and 100% of the (regional branch division). It's going to be a hard task. They'll get New York, but they won't get 100% of the RBD. So if they're missing two voters from the RBD, they won't get anything done. It's a tie. A lot of massaging will take place on both sides."

Andrew Salomon is news editor at Back Stage East.
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