Dear SAG-AFTRA L.A. Local Members,
Thank you for the trust you have given me as your newly elected SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles Local president. Thank you especially to those of you who took the time to vote. You are too rare and we appreciate you so much. It’s a great honor and privilege for me to do something to give back to the unions I joined 44 years ago. Even when I was young, I knew how important that protection was and never took that membership for granted.
It is more important than ever that all members pay attention and value our union, not only because of the protection we get. An active, involved membership is our only hope of survival in these times of consolidation of production companies with studios, studios folded into networks and networks absorbed into giant corporations who are bent on profit over the safety and well-being of workers everywhere. The larger packaging agencies are adding to our performers’ problems by becoming our employers. We all know there is way more work and way less money for us. You may have problems with protection, contracts, late payments or enforcement, but you must get involved to fight for what you want to fix! All of the forces that want to bust this union from within and without affect us here in the largest, most profitable local in the country, located at the center of it all, here in Hollywood.
I am thrilled to see our members step up and take a more active role than ever before. A record 33,000 members participated in volunteer work or attended events around L.A. last year. We also had a record 450 volunteers for committees that will bring in wonderful new ideas. Particularly here in L.A., our activism is important. We are so proud of the members who show up and come through for us when called upon to protest. I saw so many of you at the BBH strike action and at other strike actions. You’re the ones we count on to show up and you do! You have shown the leadership of this union and the world that this local will turn up when asked to show its strength and unity. Your local leaders are thankful for that. We honored the way you voted at our recent Local Board meeting.
To bring you up to speed on what we’ve been doing since the election, I was lucky as a new president of our local to waltz into the first Background Actors’ Resource Fair on Sept. 6, organized by the L.A. Background Actors’ Education & Outreach Subcommittee. I, of course, had nothing to do with it, having just been elected, but I was very proud of this subcommittee who came up with this idea and brought it to fruition. The event was a great success and provided more than 200 background actors with free headshot services, wardrobe measurements, on-set makeup tips, and several information booths provided by vendors and Background Department contracts reps. We are so thankful to the subcommittee for all of their hard work.
My next stroke of luck took me downtown with one of my favorite people, L.A. Local Executive Director Ilyanne Morden Kichaven at L.A. City Hall for the Made in Hollywood Honors, organized by City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell. This annual event honors productions filmed and edited in California, which bring work for our members as well as fellow unions, back to the home of film. On behalf of our members, I thanked all the companies involved and recalled being here before incentives brought work back. Also, I couldn’t help recalling filming West Wing in the City Hall rotunda with SAG Awards Life Achievement recipient Alan Alda.
I had heard from delegates frustrated by the narrow window of time between their election and when amendments and resolutions have to be turned in. When they don’t have the time to submit resolutions, they feel less involved at the convention. So, I called the first-ever L.A. Local Delegates’ Caucus so they could convene, discuss and endorse each other’s proposed resolutions to be presented at the 2019 SAG-AFTRA Convention. The caucus was well attended and a tremendous success, with our L.A. delegation submitting more resolutions than ever before. Yes, another record broken!
Afterwards, convention delegates shared that they felt more involved in the convention than they ever had before, were proud of having contributed something and were grateful to have learned so much about how the union runs. Our local staff, along with national staff, hosted the delegates from all over the country with warmth, efficiency and helpful directions. Bravo, especially, to our local BTE! (Best Team Ever!)
I chaired my first Local Board meeting and named committee chairs on Sept. 16. At the time of this writing, I am working with these newly appointed chairs on recommendations for their local committee members and will seek local board approval on Nov. 4. My philosophy of serving members first guides me in this process. As such, I am recommending proportional leadership according to the way Los Angeles members voted to be in accord with our L.A. Local voters’ mandate. At our local board meeting, we created our first local Sexual Harassment Committee chaired and filled by well-known leaders and members of the #MeToo movement. Board member Pam Guest will chair the committee. With that in mind, our NextGen Performers (NGP) Subcommittee was separated from the MOVE L.A. Committee into an equal standalone committee. This change by the Local Board recognized the need to embrace and attract this important group of millennials. We must protect the future of SAG-AFTRA. This was reaffirmed when National named its own NGP committee with members of NGP committees in locals from around the country.
For the first time, look for new educational opportunities for our members at 5757 Wilshire Blvd.! The thriving L.A. Conservatory will be expanding some of its programming to our national headquarters. A new classroom that had been sitting unused for months on the beautiful new second floor is now available for Conservatory members for on-camera classes as well as voiceover classes in the future. We want to expand our outreach to more film school programs and student film projects.
Our current Conservatory program continues to thrive at the American Film Institute (AFI) where members can take classes, attend panels, serve as a casting pool for AFI student films and do readings of new scripts from members of the Writers Guild and The Black List. I’m hoping to be able to visit, teach again, observe or assist, when possible. This is one of the many reasons why we’re excited to be opening these rooms there now. Your officers and staff can’t interact with you so easily out at AFI.
I am delighted to report that the Los Angeles Local members will at last have the self-taping room that we were previously unable to staff, with the assistance of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. You will have the ability to self-tape auditions for free at 5757. Thank you to the Foundation Board and Executive Director Cyd Wilson for stepping up. Keep an eye out for our emails to find out how and where to sign up. Many thanks to Nick Leland from the L.A. Conservatory for spending countless hours setting up both the self-taping room and the classroom. Remember the L.A. Conservatory continues to offer volunteer-based self-taping a few days a week at AFI.
Please join me in congratulating our L.A. Board members and all the new local and national elected leadership across the country. Special congratulations go out to my very good friends and fellow unionists: our L.A. Local First and Second VPs Frances Fisher and David Jolliffe. We also congratulate President Gabrielle Carteris and Executive VP Rebecca Damon on their re-election, as well as the new secretary-treasurer Camryn Manheim, and all the national VPs who got elected at the convention. My gratitude to all who ran for elected positions. Regardless of the result, union service is a selfless and demanding commitment. The union is only as strong as its members, and I commend all who ran to serve a great purpose, and I look forward to working with you.
We are slightly over half of the members of SAG-AFTRA and make 57% of the income earned by members of this union. Together, your Local Board and leaders will continue to fight for your rights. Our local is more than a community. It should be a family. The more care and energy we put into building our SAG-AFTRA L.A. Local, the more we can accomplish. Along with Frances and David, I will be begging and harassing L.A. Local members to come to 5757 Wilshire and get involved with us. Do the work of the union, but also join our family and teach, study, perform, create and pursue your craft here.
As I begin to learn more about our L.A. Local operations, I look forward to bringing more opportunities for your L.A. Local Board and staff to serve our members in new ways. Please feel free to reach out to me, if you have suggestions. Know that I will be reaching out to you, to engage you in your union.
Keeping the members first,
Los Angeles Local President
This item was originally featured in the Los Angeles Fall 2019 print newsletter.