Ned Vaughn, Unite for Strength


THR: What has been the hardest thing for you personally in getting through the last year?

Ned Vaughn: Dealing with repeated accusations that I and the others who are now in the majority in the leadership of the guild are attempting to somehow weaken the union. Or that we don't have the best interests of actors at heart. Because that's obviously ridiculous. We all make our livings as actors. But without a doubt the hardest part has been time away from my family. I've been active in this at a very high level, and it's required lots of my time. When I saw that Phase I relationship between SAG and AFTRA split apart in this last negotiation, I felt like we had reached a moment when this was actually going to start costing me money. It was going to start hindering the ability for middle class actors to make the best living possible. So I felt compelled to get in and help really try to make a change.

THR: How do you feel then about the email that was just sent out from SAG's leadership? One of the objections that MembershipFirst had was the accusation that they were somehow trying to destroy the union? Is there some hypocrisy there?

Vaughn: I think there was one very objectionable sentence in that email, which said some members were trying to bring the union down. That was excessive language and it shouldn't have been part of that email.

THR: Did you help write the e-mail?

Vaughn: No, I did not write that email. I believe that it was staff-generated, and probably there were many hands in it. All of the messages in this campaign, of which there have been many and will be more, absolutely have member hands on them, too. Staff will provide a structural draft, and then there's a big group of members representing the majority point of view that feed into that and create what goes out. I do think that that language was excessive. But I also think that it was born out of frustrations on two fronts: that there have been repeated misrepresentations of some of the facts concerning this deal from the opposition side. And also, that the guild has taken on really significant damage in the area where so many of us make our livings, notably our television jurisdiction. Ninety% of the pilots going to AFTRA this year is a real sign of that. And so I think while that language was inappropriate, it was probably trying to express that there are concerns that the viability of the guild is at stake if we don't stop the damage that has accrued during this time without a contract.

THR: I guess the distinction would be attributing motivation to the other side. Because doing it inadvertently through policy decisions is different than actually wanting to bring the guild down.

Vaughn: Exactly right. There's a history here. As you know, Alan Rosenberg himself has said some very harsh things about those in the majority through guild publications. He's accused us directly of trying to weaken the union. And assessing the motives of our political opponents within the guild--of any member within the guild--is really not a place we should be going. So that was a regrettable part of that email.

THR: Have you lost friends or colleagues over this?

Vaughn: I have to say no. I certainly have friends and colleagues who disagree. My friends and colleagues who I disagree with on these issues understand that any actions that I've taken have been in the interest of helping actors. They know that that's where I'm coming from. And they disagree and sometimes we'll even get into heated arguments, but I haven't had any friendships irrevocably damaged.

THR: How has your original agenda when you first helped form the Unite for Strength party most changed?

Vaughn: The debut of Unite For Strength was July 24 last year. Our defining goal is absolutely still to unite all professional performers on one side of the bargaining table. We are all about maximizing the bargaining power of professional performers.

THR: Do you feel like this contract debate, and the AFTRA contract debate, have impacted your focus or distracted you at all?

Vaughn: There is no doubt that we have had to spend far more time than I had hoped that we would dealing with this contract. And certainly it was never an agenda of Unite for Strength, for example, to support the replacement of (former SAG executive director) Doug Allen. That's not something that we campaigned on, it's not something that we set out to do. But as the contract negotiations remained stalled, and it became more and more apparent that there wasn't a workable strategy to resolve them, it's taken a lot of our focus. One of the things that I am most pleased about with this contract that the members are going to be voting on, is the fact that we were able to realign our expiration date so that we can renegotiate in 2011 jointly with AFTRA and alongside the other entertainment unions. And that comes back to our core mission.

THR: Part of the rationale for accepting the current deal is that in 2011 the various guilds can combine their leverage. There's not a lot of precedent for that kind of teamwork, though, especially with the DGA. Are you worried that you're going to fight the same lone fight then?

Vaughn: Sure, it's a possibility, but I would say two things. First of all, the leadership that has been in charge of the Screen Actors Guild has not fostered greater unity among the unions. It changes the game if the leadership of SAG has that as one of its top priorities. The second point is this: Let's assume that we could not get full cooperation among all of the unions. Even in that context, so long as AFTRA and SAG regain the kind of tight bond that they had for the 25 years preceding this negotiation, we are in a vastly better position to deal with taking care of actors' needs by presenting a united front for actors. That didn't happen this last time, and that weakened our leverage.

THR: Do you honestly believe that an organization of 120,000 or so members, that has a sister union with tens of thousands of overlapping members, will ever come to any real consensus? And if not, does the future have two unions in it, two SAGs?

Vaughn: Oh, boy. Listen, you cannot get any group of 120,000 people to completely agree on anything. But I absolutely believe that there is a massive majority of people who do the work that this guild covers who very deeply want and need for there to be only one union. If we have learned nothing else from the last year, it is that a two-union solution does not work. Look, I and others like me who are journeymen are going to start having a much harder time in years to come qualifying for our health insurance and our pension credits if the unions remain separate and our benefits contributions are split. And talk of merger is in the air. People understand that even short of merger that SAG and AFTRA must cooperate. We cannot negotiate separately.

THR: If the contract is voted down, what justification could you have for blocking a strike authorization vote at that point?

Vaughn: I don't think there's any justification. I think that that's where things have to go. And more to the point, I think that honestly the reality is that we're probably looking at a strike. Now, whether or not a strike authorization could be obtained is another important question that we need to ask, because the required 75% is a very high number, and we've had a very contentious period both in the leadership and in the membership. But I agree that a strike authorization would be the next logical step, and I think, frankly, if it were obtained it would lead to a strike.

THR: Is it disingenuous at all to use the full force of SAG, its official membership lists and leadership, to promote passage of the contract when 47% of the national board voted against it?

Vaughn: Not at all. Every voter in this referendum got a full statement of the opposition's point of view, they got a rebuttal to the majority's point of view, and certainly, as we can see, the minority has had no problem getting their message seen and heard by many, many SAG members. There is a point at which you have constitutional prescriptions for how to deal with the majority opinion and the minority opinion, and those are being followed.

THR: What was the last performance or acting job that you were hired and paid for?

Vaughn: On camera, it was an episode of "Heroes." And I also do voiceover work for a variety of people.

THR: Have you acted in any original content for the Web?

Vaughn: Never.