Individual Admits Involvement; Guild Vows ‘Zero Tolerance’ for Interference in Union Decisions
Los Angeles (August 9, 2004) – Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced today that the union is engaged in a federal lawsuit against John Vulich, president of Optic Nerve Studios – an employer who, after initial denials, has admitted to being the source of numerous unlawful emails designed to inappropriately influence a pivotal union vote. Last week, in the first two major rulings in the case, a federal judge denied attempts by Mr. Vulich to prevent the case from proceeding. Guild attorneys warned that other names may be added to the suit.
“When an employer uses illegal and harassing means to influence a union vote, the fundamental right of our members to self-determination is undermined,” said David White, SAG’s general counsel. “Employers have no business interfering with the rights of working actors to make the critical decisions of their union. To protect our members and their right to self-governance, SAG has no choice but to pursue this investigation and all legal remedies to the full extent of the law. We are deeply concerned by the pattern of illegal conduct we have uncovered, and we will show zero tolerance.”
Specifically, the charges relate to a series of falsified emails sent to Guild members and staff in advance of last year’s vote on the proposed consolidation of SAG with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). The unsolicited emails were designed to appear as if they were official SAG emails or sanctioned by the Guild. While the deceptive emails were inappropriately distributed to large segments of the Guild’s membership, the most controversial email was sent to Guild employees. Designed to resemble a memorandum from SAG's Human Resources Department, it falsely claimed that workers’ future employment would be jeopardized if the unions consolidated. The consolidation measure was narrowly defeated in a membership referendum.
Through an investigation – including information obtained from Adelphia Communications and Yahoo! through third-party subpoenas – SAG lawyers traced the bulk email attack to an Internet account belonging to Mr. Vulich. After repeatedly denying any knowledge of the emails, and once it was clear that SAG was proceeding with litigation, Mr. Vulich finally admitted he was the source of most of the emails. However, Mr. Vulich continues to deny involvement in the fraudulent emails sent directly to SAG employees.
“Mr. Vulich has alleged that he worked on behalf of certain SAG members in connection with his sabotage efforts, but he has refused to produce any credible evidence supporting this assertion,” White added. “Our union is filled with diverse, strong opinions. But our members are very public in speaking their minds, and we do not believe that they conspire with employers to undermine a legitimate union vote. Wherever this investigation leads, however, our position remains the same: If individuals feel they can wrongfully alter the outcome of a union vote through intimidation, fraud or other illegal means, then they are sorely mistaken."
This past Friday, the federal court judge presiding over the case ruled in SAG’s favor on two separate attempts by Mr. Vulich to prevent the union from proceeding with its case against him. Describing the motions as “almost entirely without merit,” the first denied Mr. Vulich’s motion to dismiss SAG’s complaint. The second – commonly known as an “anti-SLAPP” motion – claimed that SAG was punishing Mr. Vulich for exercising his First Amendment rights and would have required SAG to pay Mr. Vulich’s legal fees. However, the judge ruled the motion to be “frivolous” and instead ordered Mr. Vulich to pay SAG’s legal costs incurred by the motion.
SAG’s suit alleges nine causes of action, including fraud, libel, nuisance, interference with employment relationships, trademark infringement, two counts of computer fraud and abuse, unfair competition, and interference with prospective economic advantage. SAG is seeking general and punitive damages and injunctive relief against future email attacks.
The Guild also is investigating a possible connection to similar electronic attacks in last fall’s successful commercials contract referendum.
Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is the nation’s premier labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists’ rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents nearly 120,000 working actors in film, television, industrials, commercials and music videos. The Guild exists to enhance actors’ working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists’ rights. SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Headquartered in Los Angeles, you can visit SAG online at www.sag.org