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It was hugs and kisses Sunday at the SAG Awards, but Monday morning brought out the knives.
Screen Actors Guild national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen was summarily removed from his posts by board members critical of his handling of the guild’s TV/theatrical contract negotiations.
The ousting of Allen virtually eliminates any possibility of an actors strike.
Moderate forces at the guild had long been gunning for Allen and essentially used an obscure guild procedure to show him the door.
Just 16 hours after the guild’s awards show, 8 to 10 board members from the guild’s moderate majority, including reps from the L.A., New York and regional divisions, delivered to the guild’s general counsel at L.A. headquarters a constitutionally valid “written assent” that allowed them to pass a resolution outside of the boardroom with a simple majority.
Many of the reps stayed on hand until the counsel had given them a general assurance that everything was in order. Several hours later, once the guild’s counsel and director of governance confirmed its authenticity and validity as an official resolution, Allen and his board supporters were left with no further options.
Monday afternoon, Allen sent a farewell e-mail to staff members that indicated that he had acceded to the general counsel’s notification of his dismissal.
Among the other planks of the assent: replacing Allen with former SAG general counsel David White as interim national executive director; naming guild senior adviser John McGuire as chief negotiator for all contracts, including the TV/theatrical contract in negotiation; and replacing the TV/theatrical negotiating committee with a task force, which will represent the board of directors.
Alan Rosenberg remains president of the guild.
The swiftness of the move suggests just how impatient moderate forces had become with Allen and Rosenberg’s stalling tactics at an emergency board meeting two weeks ago. While the written assent provision of the constitution is often used for passage of mundane logistical issues, this is the first time a majority on the board has used it for such an important action.
The moderate forces represented by the Unite for Strength party indicated that they took the action reluctantly and as a last resort. The assent has the support of all but one of the national board members from SAG’s New York and regional branch divisions and all in the Hollywood division except those affiliated with the Membership First group.
Allen’s e-mail to staff, time-stamped 1:02 p.m., reads in part: “I have been informed by SAG counsel that the National Board has terminated my employment as National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator of Screen Actors Guild. I am disappointed in the board’s decision, which was made by written assent, and I am proud of my record as SAG’s NED and Chief Negotiator.”
White in May 2006 resigned from his SAG general counsel post after four years on the job. A Rhodes scholar and Stanford Law School graduate, White stepped away from the guild amid several other high-profile firings and resignations, including those of chief negotiator Sallie Weaver and NED/CEO Greg Hessinger, after Rosenberg and his Membership First party came into power in 2005.
McGuire has been an executive at the guild since 1969. A Fordham Law School graduate, he was associate national executive director from 1983-2001 and the New York executive director before that.
The task force that will replace the negotiating committee is comprised in a way that reflects the political makeup of the national board and will include members of the Membership First party that held the majority on the dissolved negotiating committee. The names of those on the task force have not been released.
“These much-needed changes will allow SAG to chart a new course,” said the Unite for Strength message delivered to SAG members via e-mail. “We will work to secure a TV/Theatrical Contract that can be sent to members with a positive recommendation and to effectively resolve all our outstanding contracts.”
Some in the moderate wing hope to have a face-to-face meeting with the AMPTP by the end of next week, scheduling permitting, but the decision is now up to McGuire. Their goal appears to be to hammer the current deal into a shape that will be ratified by the membership and the board. SAG members have been working under the parameters of the previous contract since it expired June 30.
Beyond the immediate changes and potential resolution of the TV/theatrical contract, the guild has a handful of other expired or nearly expired contracts — including basic cable, TV animation, interactive media, basic cable animation and commercials — that need to be resolved.
The newly reconstituted negotiating leadership’s focus will be on nailing down a deal with employers in the AMPTP, likely the same one that has been on the table since June 30 that resembles that which the DGA, WGA and AFTRA have already ratified.
Once that is accomplished, the long-divided union will likely engage in some soul-searching and image rebuilding.
“We will also work to rebuild vital relationships in the entertainment and labor communities,” the Unite for Strength letter said, “and to re-establish Screen Actors Guild as a respected and powerful institution, protecting and defending performers nationwide.”
Jay A. Fernandez reported from Los Angeles; Andrew Salomon of Back Stage reported from New York.
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