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Directors Guild of America national executive director Jay Roth is retiring effective in the late spring, the guild announced Wednesday. He will continue as a senior advisor.
Roth served 22 years and was outside general counsel for 10 years before that, putting his mark on all facets of the organization over a period of three decades. A succession plan will be announced in February following the union’s next national board meeting.
“Jay’s entire professional career has been dedicated to representing people and helping to make their lives better — early on as a civil rights and labor lawyer, and for more than three decades, as an essential part of the DGA’s life as its greatest adviser, defender and coach,” Guild president Paris Barclay said in a statement.
“Over a year ago, Jay began a conversation with the Guild about a plan to retire from his role as national executive director,” Barclay continued.” At the request of our national board, he agreed to continue in his position through the negotiations of our recently announced contract — a decision for which we honor Jay, and which reflects his genuine, unwavering dedication and loyalty to the DGA and its members. With negotiations now behind us, Jay will move forward with his planned retirement from his role as National Executive Director later this spring. But we couldn’t let him go completely. To our great fortune, at that time, he will transition to a role with us as senior adviser.”
The new deal, touted by the DGA as including significant gains in high-budget SVOD residuals, is out for ratification. Details have not yet been released. Assuming ratification, which is all but certain, the new pact will take effect July 1.
Roth has served as DGA national executive director since 1995. Since that time, if not before, the DGA has usually set the pattern on wage increases and residuals formulas that then are usually adopted by SAG, AFTRA, now SAG-AFTRA, and the WGA. The DGA has only struck once in its 80-plus year history — and that was for just a few minutes — and under Roth has long used a data-driven approach to negotiations.
“One of the greatest testaments to Jay’s leadership skills was his ability to shepherd the Guild through these historic changes in our industry while inspiring member involvement and organizing. Jay and his next-generation professional staff advanced our Guild into the research-driven, member-centric organization it is today,” said Barclay.
Roth also has become known for his strong personality. An anecdote: After arriving at the green room before a panel at UC Santa Barbara, Roth promptly began upbraiding this reporter for the panel’s framing and choice of topics. Protests that his interlocutor was simply a co-panelist with no input in the matter were to no avail; Roth’s objections simply had to play out. But the executive’s force of will has contributed to making the DGA a very buttoned-up organization.
“The DGA has been, and continues to be, a tremendous part of my life,” said Roth. “I joined not only because it is a top-notch organization with proud traditions and solid governance, but also because its membership and staff had an established culture of rowing the boat the same way, and an understanding of who leads and makes policy — and who advises and executes. I’m proud of what we’ve all accomplished together to build the Guild and advance our mission of protecting the creative and economic rights of our members — every single new contract, compensation increase, residual, creative right and expansion of jurisdiction that has allowed our members the freedom and security to create the best motion pictures in the world.”
As national executive director, Roth led eight rounds of negotiations addressing the industry’s changing production, distribution and exhibition models fueled by the rise of cable, home video, digital production and the internet.
His work included blending disparate contracts that paid members differently for the same work depending on the recording medium, helping revitalize the health and pension plans, and establishing jurisdiction and agreements that cover new media — that last accomplished by negotiations that built on WGA contract demands and took place while the writer’s union was out on strike — and, in the two most recent contract cycles, enhancing residuals in subscription VOD.
During Roth’s tenure at the Guild, membership grew 65 percent, the number of field representatives tripled, the contracts department grew nearly five times in size and annual residuals payments to DGA members increased 300 percent to nearly $400 million, the guild said. The Guild’s global presence also was expanded — including staff assigned to international affairs and the development of a new Coordinating Committee in London — to reflect the changing dynamics of the industry. Roth also helped create and promote the Franco American Cultural Fund, garnering him the French Legion of Honor in 2009.
“Jay is one of those rare individuals who sees the forest and the trees — in 3D — recognizing how to bring every puzzle piece together in service of a greater vision,” said union secretary-treasurer and past president Michael Apted. “On behalf of all of us who have benefited from his tireless work, thank you Jay.”
Roth began his career as a legal services and civil rights lawyer and joined the DGA staff as national executive director in 1995 after practicing labor law as managing partner of Taylor, Roth, Bush & Geffner, a prominent labor-side labor law firm, where he represented entertainment guilds including the DGA, as well as other labor organizations and pension, health and welfare funds.
Roth has served as the chairman of the Guild’s own affiliated benefit organization, the DGA-Producer Pension and Health Plans, which administers a $3 billion pension and health fund for DGA members and their families. He also is a board member of the charitable DGA Foundation, which provides support for members in times of crisis and the Motion Picture & Television Fund, for which he is treasurer. He also is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“I’d especially like to recognize the Presidents whom I’ve worked alongside, and our National Board, because none of this would be possible without great leadership and an engaged membership,” said Roth. “I’m also proud of the next generation staff we’ve built from the ground up. I look forward to the next chapter of my work with the Guild — and to the new milestones that will be achieved by the DGA and its members.”
Roth was born and raised in New York and is a graduate of the University of Vermont and Boston University Law School. He is married to his wife of 45 years, Sherry Grant, an attorney who represents injured workers. They have a daughter and son-in-law, Gina and Dan O’Donnell, and two grandchildren.
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