Oregon Governor Urges SAG-AFTRA to Keep Portland Office Open

SAG AFTRA One Union Logo - H 2012

SAG AFTRA One Union Logo - H 2012

John Kitzhaber and a business association leader both ask the union to reconsider its decision to close the office – but the union appears set on closing the office at 5 p.m. Friday.

Upping the stakes in the effort to maintain their local office, members of a group dubbed "Occupy Portland SAG-AFTRA" have secured the support of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, the group announced Friday.

Calling the matter an "economic issue," the governor said in a letter to the union’s national executive director, David White, "Your union's presence in this state is an economic asset for Oregon, and closing this office is problematic for Oregon as would be the loss of any business."

The letter adds, "I urge SAG-AFTRA to reconsider its decision to leave Oregon without a local office so that we can continue to grow this industry, create good jobs and increase SAG-AFTRA membership in our state."

Portland’s is one of 10 offices nationwide – out of 25 total – that the union is closing in a budget and "restructuring" move. The 66 percent to 33 percent boardroom vote to close offices was almost exclusively supported by Los Angeles and New York board members. The campaign to save the Portland office was initiated by two SAG-AFTRA national board members from Portland, Mary McDonald-Lewis and Chrisse Roccaro.

In response, a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter, "We love the fact that Governor Kitzhaber is so supportive of our members and appreciate his desire to expand the work of our industry in Oregon. We agree with him and expect to continue our good work with his offices to advance the interests of our membership."

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However, the statement added, "Whether or not we have a physical office in this state will not change this fact. We are working to bring more effective services and support to all SAG-AFTRA members, wherever they live and work around the globe."

The spokesperson also challenged the premise that a physical office was necessary in order to foster production activity. In addition, White has previously said that office closures will not mean reduced core services or scaled-back representation in the long-term.

McDonald-Lewis has disputed the union’s cost-saving rationale for the closures, arguing that any reduction in costs would be offset by the cost of severance payments, buyout of real estate leases, selling of office equipment at fire-sale prices, reduction in new membership and a spike in non-union work.

"Merger was sold on a false promise," she said, arguing that there was never any statement that merger would result in office closures.

Several weeks earlier, the Oregon Media Production Association’s executive director, Tom McFadden, also wrote White and urged that the office remain open. "As Director of an organization that represents the business interests of Oregon's production industry, my request may be found odd," McFadden wrote. "However, we feel that growing and maintaining the U.S. share of business means supporting and protecting labor standards while holding performers to the standards of professionalism that our industry requires in those locations where the business is practiced."

In a statement Friday, McDonald-Lewis said that SAG-AFTRA had "ordered [executive director Nathaniel] Applefield and the council off the premises at 5:00PM sharp," but McDonald-Lewis and Roccaro said that wasn't quite the way the last few hours were going to go down. They’re having a live-streamed goodbye party to honor Applefield and bid farewell to the office.

"This is our house," says McDonald-Lewis. "We'll leave when the party’s over." Roccaro adds: "The band doesn’t even set up until 6:00!"

And the name of the band? General Strike.

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