The Screen Actors Guild's new national president issued a letter to members Friday indicating that his regime is dedicated to a hard line in negotiating new contracts.
Alan Rosenberg, who was elected in late September as his Membership First slate also took a majority position on SAG's national board of directors, spoke of taking a tougher stance on negotiations as he discussed his firing of Greg Hessinger, SAG's former national executive director-chief executive officer.
"Making a change like this is never an easy decision, and this one was no different," Rosenberg said in his letter issued Friday night. "Greg is an able and talented executive, and a committed unionist. But many members of your national board felt strongly that we needed a fresh start -- a national executive director with new energy and new thinking who is fully committed to the priorities of your new leadership team, particularly with regard to our tougher approach to collective bargaining."
SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists will be co-negotiating a new Commercials contract next year. Rosenberg has stated publicly he wants those talks to set the tone for other contract negotiations during his two-year tenure, and hopefully carry over to the TV/Theatrical contract talks in three years. He has stressed that the main issue in pact talks will be increasing residuals for members.
Hessinger's firing appeared to be at the behest of Rosenberg and his Membership First majority, with board members from SAG/New York and the other branches opposing the dismissal. That set the vote on Hessinger in the area of 54-46, far from unanimous. Recognizing the heavy dissent within the board, Rosenberg seemed to be attempting to salve the wounds in his Friday letter.
"The board will soon begin the search for a permanent replacement. It is my promise that this process will include representatives from each of our three divisions, and we will work until we find a candidate who meets the needs of all our members." At the time Rosenberg fired Hessinger at SAG's national plenary in Los Angeles, the new president also immediately appointed Peter Frank, the guild's chief financial officer, as the interim national executive director.
Rosenberg further tried to set a peaceful tone in the letter by saying, "Rarely are difficult decisions unanimous and it is important to note that there were some who disagreed with this decision. As someone who has spent much of my life fighting for causes in which I believe, I have the greatest respect for those who express an opposing viewpoint and for the rights of the minority. I take great pride in the fact that this question was addressed through the fair and democratic process that represents the very best of our union. Our strength is, as it always has been, in that process and our unity. We will now move forward together, in that spirit and with our collective strength, as we have time and time again."
Paul Christie, the president of SAG/NY and the guild's national second vice president, made comments following Hessinger's firing which dispute Rosenberg's view of unity in the letter:
"This made us sick in New York and around the country," Christie said of the handling of Hessinger's dismissal. "It's shattered any confidence the staff could have. This is not going away. This is as close to something that will split this union in half as anything since I've been here. They're under the impression this will blow over. But everybody from the branches left disgusted and everybody from New York did too. This will not go away. Rosenberg talked about unifying the Guild, but this has been as divisive as anything I've seen."