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Union Roundup: ADG’s Ongoing Controversy Begs the Question, ‘Who Watches the Watchmen?’


Watchmen image via DC Comics/Reddit

So if you’ve been kind enough to be a regular reader of this space, you not only have an interest in the labor side of the film and TV biz but are doubtless already apprised of the latest union imbroglio — namely the somewhat ironic situation where workers in the Art Directors Guild office were trying to organize, only to find that the putative leader of that drive, ADG accountant Nicole Oeuvray, was fired by executive director Chuck Parker, just a few months shy of her vesting in the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan. 

As Below the Line (and Deadline, where it all broke) reported earlier this week , in a lengthy opinion an NLRB “judge found that Oeuvray’s firing on May 15, 2020, was ‘discriminatorily motivated’ even though Parker claimed it was the result of a bounced check, late financial reports, and a brusque attitude towards certain colleagues.”

For its part, the ADG says “this is an ongoing matter and will be appealed.”

One interesting aspect to consider is, what kind of a union do workers for a union want representing them?

The answer, in this case, happens to be fellow AFL-CIO guild OPEIU — the Office and Professional Employees International Union. Their nearby Local 537 already reps a slew of office workers for other unions, including those for Actors Equity, SAG-AFTRA, and IATSE Locals 122, 728, and 871 ( the San Diego IA, Lighting, and Script Supervisors, respectively), making ADG’s reported stance against them even more puzzling.

For those outside the controversy, it might be easy, at first blush, to conflate them with the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. Both, for instance, are active components of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and the SEIU was often in the news as having been one of the only growing unions in recent years — certainly before the recent uptick in worker activism occasioned by the pandemic, and in reaction to the previous administration.

ADG logo

Both unions were started decades back, long before becoming part of the AFL-CIO, at a time when most Americans still didn’t work in offices. Simply put, the OPEIU represented the people in the actual offices — typing, moving paper, answering phones — and the SEIU repped those who maintained the buildings those offices were in, like janitors, elevator operators, etc.

Given that some of those job duties don’t even exist anymore, the unions continued to evolve, with the SEIU, for example, now known for representing public service and healthcare workers.

And sometimes the line between the two different guilds still gets fuzzy. A recent Labor Notes article on how unions can defend abortion rights starts with general, practical advice, such as admonishing unions to use “their legal departments or hire lawyers to defend members who get sued or prosecuted for allegedly performing, getting, or helping someone get an abortion.”

Later, the piece talks about organizing at various health care facilities, in order to provide additional protections — fiscal, legal, etc. — for the workers there, noting that recently there’s “been a recent flood of unionizations in the ‘repro’ movement, including at Planned Parenthood North Central States region (the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota) and other states (SEIU); (and) Preterm Clinic, the independent abortion provider in Ohio (SEIU).”

A couple of paragraphs later, it mentions an OPEIU organizing attempt that met an initial fate similar to the efforts at ADG: “Workers at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research center, won their election to unionize with OPEIU Local 153 on July 14. Less than an hour after the results were announced, one organizing committee leader was fired without cause; the union continues to fight for reinstatement. Planned Parenthood affiliates in Austin and Miami have also come under fire for laying off active members of union organizing committees.”

Planned Parenthood — one in Austin, no less — opposing its own employees’ attempts to organize also conjures up the ADG situation, leaving one to speculate about why such groups, ostensibly on the same broad side of the cultural and political fence, would fall out among themselves in such circumstances.

Chuck Parker
Chuck Parker image via ADG

What’s the opposite of “strange bedfellows,” to denote surprise opposition? Strange oddfellows?

In any case, in its current showdown with ADG leadership, the putative OPEIU members have already responded with a Guild Facts 911 email newsletter and website (the latter of which makes copious and whimsical use of old movie screencaps), promising “the real stories that your ADG leadership doesn’t want you to know.”

Visiting the website, you find the group’s mission statement, which declares, among other things, that “our intention is to enlighten and inform the membership by providing a forum so that all may confidentially share their workplace experiences and concerns.”

Later, it says that “for too long, an entitled minority of tenured members and inexperienced senior staff have been unilaterally misusing executive sessions, staff intimidation, and workplace malefice in the execution of our business and membership affairs.”

“Malefice” is a rather extraordinary word choice here. Appearing initially as perhaps a misspelling of “malfeasance,” instead it actually means an evil deed or enchantment of some sort, a charge, in a sense of witchcraft.

Strange oddfellows indeed, as the rhetoric already takes its own great leap forward (though, of course, the newsletter underscores ADG exec secretary Chuck Parker’s “fuck OPEIU” declaration as well).

Whether the AFL-CIO can broker a peace between these two warring factions in its house, before more damage — actual, rhetorical — is inflicted, remains to be seen. But perhaps, post-IATSE contract, we’re not in such a quiet period of Hollywood labor after all…

MLWIncrediHeadMark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”

Mark London Williams’ Union Roundup column will appear every Tuesday. You can reach him to give him tips and feedback at [email protected]. He can also be found on Twitter @TricksterInk.

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