SAG-AFTRA 'Occupy Portland' Seeks to Keep Office Open

SAG AFTRA One Union Logo - H 2012

SAG AFTRA One Union Logo - H 2012

The boardroom vote to close 10 of the union’s 25 offices was almost exclusively supported by Los Angeles and New York board members.

Just days after the SAG-AFTRA board approved a plan to shutter 10 of the union’s 25 offices in a budget and “restructuring” move, opposition has broken out in Portland, the site of one of the offices to be closed. Under the rubric of “Occupy Portland SAG-AFTRA,” a petition and Facebook page have been set up, with the petition having garnered 649 signatures and the Facebook page displaying several dozen emails sent to David White, the union’s national executive director.

The campaign to save the Portland office was initiated by two SAG-AFTRA national board members from Portland, Mary McDonald-Lewis and Chrisse Roccaro. The petition was set up even before the board vote, but the effort became more public in the last several days.

“I pray that my campaign will succeed,” McDonald-Lewis told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive interview. “I expect it to fail. But history will record that we didn’t go down without a fight.”

McDonald-Lewis said that losing the office would result in loss of political clout for the local. Without events and the “galvanizing force” of an office, she said members will disperse and be less supportive of the union.

“Without an office, there’s no there there,” she said. “There’s no unity.” She called having an office an essential part of maintaining unity during strikes, and added that losing the Local’s staff, including the executive director, political veteran Nathaniel Applefield, would reduce the union’s clout with state government -- an especially touchy matter since a bill is currently pending in the state legislature to increase Oregon’s tax incentives.

SAG-AFTRA declined to comment. However, in a union statement issued on Sunday, White said that office closures will not mean reduced core services or scaled-back representation in the long-term.

In addition, union co-president Roberta Reardon said then, “This is a difficult undertaking . . . We are a national union committed to excellent service in vibrant markets across the country. That won’t change.”

McDonald-Lewis 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.

Sources tell THR that the boardroom vote that approved the union budget (which included closing the offices) was 66 percent to 33 percent. The Ayes were composed of all Los Angeles board members, about 2/3 of the New York board members, and two board members from the union’s 23 other offices. One of the two was from an office not slated for closure. All of the other board members from outside LA and NY voted No.

The restructuring process calls for the closure of 10 of the union’s 25 offices nationwide in the next 30-60 days. THR has learned that in addition to Portland, the offices to be closed are Michigan, Houston-Austin, Twin Cities, San Diego, Nevada, Arizona-Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and New Orleans.

Fifteen offices will be maintained, said the union statement issued on Sunday, including those in eight major markets and seven broadcast/emerging markets that together represent over 93 percent of the union’s membership.  The eight major markets are Los Angeles, New York, Washington-Mid Atlantic, Chicago, San Francisco, New England, Philadelphia, and Miami. The seven broadcast/emerging markets are Dallas-Ft. Worth, Seattle, Atlanta, Nashville, Hawaii, Ohio-Pittsburgh and Missouri Valley.

McDonald-Lewis said that all of the affected offices were attempting to stop the closures, but that she wasn’t aware of any organized effort in that regard. She said that, with some intermittent closures or scaling back, AFTRA had had an office in Portland since the 1980s and SAG since the early 1990s.

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