I'm nowhere close to Hollywood's "A" list, but when they opened it up to the rest of us, I signed this letter:
Dear SAG Board Members, officers and staff:
We feel very strongly that SAG members should not vote to authorize a strike at this time. We don't think that an authorization can be looked at as merely a bargaining tool. It must be looked at as what it is -- an agreement to strike if negotiations fail.
We support our union and we support the issues we're fighting for, but we do not believe in all good conscience that now is the time to be putting people out of work.
None of our friends in the other unions are truly happy with the deals they made in their negotiations. Three years from now all the union contracts will be up again at roughly the same time. At that point if we plan and work together with our sister unions we will have incredible leverage.
As hard as it may be to wait those three years under an imperfect agreement, we believe this is what we must do. We think that a public statement should be made by SAG recognizing that although this is not a deal we want, it is simply not a time when our union wants to have any part in creating more economic hardship while so many people are already suffering.
Let's take the high road. Let's unite with our brothers and sisters in the entertainment community and prepare for the future, three years down the line. Then, together, let's make a great deal.
[About 130 actors who are on the "A" list, according to the people who decide what the "A" list is. And your pal Wil Wheaton, who is not on the A list, but still struggles to qualify for his health insurance every year.]
Allow me to give a little perspective on where I'm coming from: I'm a former member of SAG's Hollywood board of directors. I've chaired committees, and I've sat in on negotiations. I'm about as pro-union and pro-actor as you can get, and I hate the insulting offer the AMPTP has given us. But I'm also a realist. If we go on strike in February, we won't hurt the moguls enough to force them to negotiate with us, they'll just fill up on "reality" programming and produce new works under the disastrous contract those idiots at AFTRA agreed to, while SAG's health and pension plans are destroyed. We'll definitely hurt our own members, and all of our friends from other departments who work with us on the set. Yeah, I realize that SAG's first responsibility is to its own members, but we don't exist in a vacuum, and we have to acknowledge that fact.
Let me be clear: The moguls can go to hell seventeen different ways for being greedy and unreasonable, and trying to bust our unions. In three years I'll be the first in line to fight them as long as it takes … but we aren't coming from a position of strength right now, and everyone knows it, especially the AMPTP. Producers and networks won't feel the pain of a strike in any significant way, but a – and we all know that they'll do whatever they can to drag it out as long as possible; look at what they did to the WGA – will likely ruin the lives of more middle and working class people than I care to think about.
For the SAG board to even consider voluntarily stopping work when we're falling deeper and deeper into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression isn't just stupid, it's recklessly irresponsible. SAG needs to face the reality we're stuck with: AFTRA sold us out. AFTRA fucked all actors everywhere by negotiating with the AMPTP on their own and agreeing to shockingly horrible terms. The AFTRA negotiators failed all actors, whether they're currently SAG, currently AFTRA, or are still hoping to join. Those "negotiators" should be ashamed of themselves, and they shouldn't be allowed in the same building as a contract ever again.
I believe the things SAG is asking for are entirely reasonable, I believe they reflect the reality of the entertainment industry in 2008 and beyond, and I believe that they are vital for actors to continue to make a living in the future - especially internet jurisdiction and residuals. In any other economic environment, I'd be willing to walk out in a heartbeat to get them. But we have to be realistic. People are losing their homes, can't afford basic healthcare, and are struggling to support their families. SAG is not negotiating from a position of strength (thanks again for that, AFTRA, you're awesome) but in three years, we can join our sister unions and we will be.
Sun Tzu teaches us that "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight." SAG leadership needs to be responsible and realistic; this is not the time to have this fight. If you're a SAG member, I urge you to vote no on the strike authorization vote, and be ready to fight like hell in three years.