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Local 44 Election Issues

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The drawn-out and muddled
officer election at Propmaker
Local 44 finally looks like it’s heading
for a conclusion. The first round
was scratched due to irregularities
and a rerun drew further protests.
Now a final runoff between the two
top vote-getters for each officer slot
in the replay round is set for late in
July, with certified results expected
in August.
Whatever the eventual tally,
present leaders of the union led
by business agent Stew McGuire
have already lost their bids for
new terms since they didn’t get
enough votes to qualify for the
final bakeoff.
That would make Local 44—
with some 6,000 members representing
property masters, set
decorators, special-effects workers,
construction coordinators, as
well as propmakers—the second
big local within the International
Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) to oust its officials
in recent months. In May the
International Cinematographers
Guild (ICG) voted in an entire dissident
slate led by Gary Dunham,
who is the new president of IA
Local 600.
The first round of the
Propmaker’s election took place
in April, but was invalidated by an
accounting firm hired to monitor
the process. Reasons involved confusion
over who was eligible to vote
and other alleged missteps. In that
first round Ronnie Cunningham,
the union’s business agent from
1989 to 2001, came in first with
795 votes, while McGuire got 617
votes to come in second.
When the April vote was set
aside and a rerun was held in June,
McGuire fell to third with 583
votes or 22.1 percent of those cast,
which put him out of the running.
Cunningham again was first with
1,311 votes, or 49.7 percent—a little
short of the 50 percent plus one
vote needed to win—and Kevin
Pike came in second with 739
votes, or 28 percent.
At that point, new protests
from members arose over the
invalidation of the initial election
round—the accounting firm
was said to have acted on flawed
information—which in effect disputed
the need for a rerun. A
report issued in early July, following
a two-week probe by a
specially appointed election committee
of Local 44 members, concluded
“that the protests were
unsupported by evidence and
were based on mere speculation”
and that results from the second
election were to be used as the
basis for the runoff. “Nonetheless
we have carefully considered the
protests and any potential impact
on the election,” the report noted
somewhat cryptically.
Instead of a runoff against
McGuire, Cunningham will now
face Pike, who has been endorsed
by McGuire, for the post of business
agent (the top executive job
at Local 44). “It’s a two-man race
now,” says Pike who feels that he
still has a shot to beat Cunningham
if he attracts votes that had gone to
McGuire and other candidates in
the rerun. “The future of the Local
is at stake and the members want
a fresher leadership approach,
which I’m offering,” declares Pike,
an Emmy winner for special visual
effects.
For the less powerful job of
Local 44 president, whose role is to
head the union’s executive board,
the runoff will pit Erik Nelson
(who had 901 votes or 35.9 percent
in the rescheduled election)
against Jack Thomas (828 votes,
33 percent). For secretary-treasurer,
Dennis McGeehan (1,132
votes, 43.5 percent) contends with
Elliot Jennings (743 votes, 28.6
percent).
The complex election mechanics
have obscured the actual issues
in the Local 44 election. One frontburner
issue is how to deal with
runaway production and its negative
impact on jobs in Hollywood.
Unhappiness by Local 600
members over their previous officers’
approach in seeking subsidies
as a way to counteract runaway
production was a factor in the
recent changeover at the ICG.
Reflecting the aggressive orientation
of its new leadership, Local
600 changed the guild’s previous
policy and at the end of June joined
with the Film and Television
Action Committee (FTAC) to ask
the Bush Administration to file a
trade complaint against Canada,
Australia and other governments
which have enacted subsidies to
entice filmmakers. The action flew
in the face of IATSE, which under
president Tom Short has resisted
making runaway production into
an international trade issue.
The ongoing elections at Local
44 have revolved around another
area of contention, the contract
the IA negotiated last year with the
Alliance of Motion Picture and
Television Producers (AMPTP)
on behalf of many of the below-theline
unions, including Local 44.
The IA made concessions to the
producers that not only freeze wage
levels on first and second-year episodic
television shows, but reduce
wage scales for work on low-budget
television series by 23 percent.
Though the contract was overwhelmingly
approved by union
members last year, and backed by
officials at Local 44 and other
below-the-line unions, the givebacks
have lately triggered a
member backlash that has been
tapped into by Cunningham, who
has called the contract “horrid.”
A tentative agreement between
Teamsters Local 399 and the
AMPTP may have made the issue
moot (see related story, page 1).
The IA has also become
embroiled in yet another area of
controversy at Local 44: the union’s
cavalier approach to compensating
its top officials and staff. In
November 2001, Short sent a letter
to Local 44 officers, after the
IA issued a report criticizing the
union’s financial practices. “After
reviewing all documentation, it
became clear that the Local has
an obvious mismanagement of
affairs which appears to go back
to the early 1990s,” Short wrote.
“No direction was given to any of
the officers and they continued to
act and make decisions which ultimately
affected the financial condition
of the Local such as increases
in wages, overtime, severance pay,
unused vacation pay, bonuses etc.
with no substantiation or documentation
authorizing such payments.”
However, for some reason
the IA took no further action in the
wake of Short’s letter.
Cunningham, who was the
business agent for Local 44 in the
early 1990s, was unavailable for
comment. But, say sources, the
absence of financial accountability
is a problem that has continued
to persist at Local 44 in recent
years, and remains an issue in the
present elections.

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