Portland delegates

The fourth biennial SAG-AFTRA convention was held Oct. 10–13 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. Five delegates from the Portland Local attended the convention: National Board member Mary McDonald-Lewis, Portland Local President Michelle Damis, Portland Local Vice President Harold Phillips and first-time delegates Rachael Perrell Fosket and Elizabeth Zimmerman. The delegates took a few moments to share their impressions of their time in L.A. and what convention means for our local.

Michelle Damis

“In October, I attended my first SAG-AFTRA convention. I was greatly inspired by the thoughtfulness that went into many of the resolutions that we heard on the floor and voted upon. Resolutions from all over the country, from new members, from experienced veterans, all wanting to enhance the SAG-AFTRA member experience in some way. I was thrilled to learn our strategy in the area of commercials is already paying off with a 16% increase in revenue in the first quarter, and this makes me very hopeful for upcoming contract negotiations in other areas. Overall, the experience was educational, inspirational and confirmed my belief that when we stand together and have a goal, we will have impact. As I return to Portland, I’m eager to find those of you willing to stand with me and our local board to make our area stronger.”

Rachael Perrell Fosket

“I learned more regarding my responsibility as a board member and ways in which I can provide for our community in Portland, and I was overwhelmed by the strength of our union. 

“Our union is easy to work with and hard to fight. Our union stands up against racism, harassment and injustice, not just vocally, but in the litigation of our contracts and the people we support. (SAG-AFTRA and Mexican actors union ANDA signed a cooperative agreement at this year’s convention.) Our union is in the room with the industry powerhouses, always negotiating and working for its performers.

“As the industry’s language changes, so does the union’s. We are working with AI technology, we are in talks with the streaming services, and we are communicating with performers around the world to ensure that we maintain and improve our union standards. I watched as delegates from all over the country, our local included, spoke for their communities, voiced concerns and talked about opportunities our brothers and sisters are anticipating. It was a wonderful experience.

“I would encourage our future delegates to be mindful when you decide to write out resolutions. There is legality involved that we have to respect in order to keep our union strong. Also, there are a lot of passionate resolutions, and for good reason too! I would suggest that future delegates remain calm and make educated decisions. Portland was respected and applauded for our tactfulness. I would encourage future delegates to continue that history.” 

Mary McDonald-Lewis

“It’s a funny quirk of mine, but I am uncomfortable sharing experiences of events with others who weren’t there. It’s like when you tell a friend you couldn’t catch a play and they respond, ‘Oh my gosh, you really missed something special! I’m so sorry!’ I’m left with the uneasy feeling that folks might feel left out, and that brings back the old last-picked-on-the-softball-team queasiness in my tummy.

“And yet, it’s important to share why SAG-AFTRA holds its convention every two years. We hold our category vice president national elections, putting those and other officers in place (other than the president and secretary-treasurer, for whom all members vote). We also address the many resolutions provided by members nationwide, several from Oregon included. We learn about emerging challenges and fraternize with sisters and brothers from across the country. It’s good work that’s hard, exhausting and rewarding.

“But the deep satisfaction we experience there can easily be experienced right here. Because the best part of convention, I believe, is to have a strong hand on the tiller that drives the course of the good ship SAG-AFTRA. To shape policy with imagination and shoe leather. This is the legacy work that feels most relevant to me. And all of us can do that by joining local committees, coming out to events and political actions, traveling to Salem on Industry Day and more. Our union is rich with opportunities for involvement.

“Our union volunteer work is our own ‘convention,’ and everyone can join. So don’t let yourself be the last one picked for softball. Get in the game where everyone wins!” 

Harold Phillips

“‘Be a part of something bigger.’ It’s a phrase we often use when we encourage pre-members to join SAG-AFTRA. It’s a reminder that union membership is about more than just us or our careers.

“Nowhere is that fact more apparent than at SAG-AFTRA’s national convention, where representatives from all 25 locals meet to chart the course for our national union. Yes, there’s fun to be had at convention, but there’s also a lot of work, as delegates consider resolutions and amendments, meet to discuss the challenges we face in our industry and, perhaps most importantly, the solutions we’ve found in our locals to address those challenges. 

“These meetings with fellow members, whether structured or informal, are the heart of convention. They remind us that no matter where we live — Portland, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles — we face the headwinds of our changing industry together, and united.  

“That sense of unity is displayed from the top, as well. President Gabrielle Carteris made time to talk with delegates from locals large and small. Executive Vice President Rebecca Damon gave special mention of Oregon’s Labor movement in her speech to the delegates, saying ‘unionism is in the soil’ here. Secretary-Treasurer Camryn Manheim made sure to visit delegates from “Stumptown.” Every member of our union knows they’re part of something bigger. Portland’s delegates returned from Convention with a renewed sense of that fact — and a drive to remind our members here at home of it as well.”

Elizabeth Zimmerman

“This was my first time attending a SAG-AFTRA convention. Besides the social aspects, there were keynote speakers, award presentations and voting, lots of voting. We elected the vice president that represents our geographic area, amended the constitution and debated several resolutions. When both sides made valid points, it was tough to make a decision. I am more aware now of what it takes to keep a tremendously large group organized. The strategies I picked up will come in handy. I was glad to be in the company of those who had attended previous conventions. I received a plethora of pointers. We each decided to attend different workshops so we could learn a wide variety of ideas to share. Additionally, the social aspects were quite beneficial. Meeting people from all over the U.S. and exchanging ideas was enjoyable and useful. It felt good to be a part of something larger than myself.”

Want to find out more about what your Portland Local delegates experienced at the 2019 SAG-AFTRA Convention? Listen to this episode of the SAG-AFTRA podcast for an inside look at convention from President Gabrielle Carteris and National Executive Director David white.

Photo: Portland delegates Rachael Perrell Fosket, Elizabeth Zimmerman, Harold Phillips, National Board member Mary McDonald-Lewis, Portland Local President Michelle Damis, Local Executive Director Shellea Allen and Senior Business Representative Chris Comte at the 2019 SAG-AFTRA National Convention.


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