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ICG Goings-On

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The split within the leadership ranks of International Cinematographers Guild over what tack to take in the fight against runaway production widened into a chasm following a two-day meeting last month of Local 600’s National Executive Board (NEB).Clashing accounts of votes taken by the NEB on how to deal with the contentious runaway issue rival the conflicting versions of reality found in Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, a film about multiple interpretations of a single incident.ICG president Gary Dunham, in a statement issued to the press following the June 11–12 meetings, said the NEB, the union’s governing body, had moved “to endorse and support a trade investigation of foreign film and television subsidies.”“This is what last year’s elections were all about,” added Dunham, who last year was elected president of Local 600 after campaigning to take a tougher approach to runaway production. “We have affirmed our commitment to an investigation into the legality of foreign film and television subsidies. It is time to level the playing field for our members.”A blistering letter signed by 36 NEB members and alternates was sent to Dunham on June 23, charging the Local 600 president had “misrepresented the actions of the Board.” He was asked to publicly correct his statement because “it implied the Board supported what it had specifically rejected, namely a US government-sponsored investigation into the legality of foreign subsidies.”Among the signers were Rusty Burrell, the ICG’s first national vice president; Steven Poster, ASC, a former head of the American Society of Cinematographers, Allen Daviau, ASC and John Toll, ASC.According to the letter, the Board passed a resolution calling for an “internal investigation” into the issue of foreign film subsidies. However, the NEB voted 30-to-27 to oppose a separate resolution backing a so-called 301(a) petition that requests the US Department of Commerce initiate a formal trade action against Canada and other foreign countries because their subsidies for film and television production allegedly constitute an unfair trade practice.“Unfortunately, by putting a spin on the Board’s actions you may have harmed the relationship with Local 600 and IATSE,” the letter to Dunham continued. “One of the specific reasons the Board rejected the 301(a) petition was because many NEB members did not want to get into a fight with the International just a few months before the Basic Agreement negotiations are likely to begin,” the letter continued.“The NEB is the governing body of Local 600,” the letter to Dunham further stated. “Even though you may disagree with some of the Board’s decisions, it is your responsibility to accurately represent them to the membership and the public. What you did in this case was to ignore the fact that the NEB had rejected joining with a few IATSE locals and FTAC [Film and Television Action Committee] to support filing a 301(a) petition.” The signers further claimed that “without consulting with the Board, it appears that you spun the story to please one faction of the Board.”Dunham, in an interview with Below The Line, said the letter to him “has no credibility and no merit,” and that he would not change his statement. “The bottom line is my press release accurately reflects what happened at the National Executive Board meeting,” he stated. “What’s going on is a lot of sour grapes and a lot of posturing by people on the losing side in last year’s election,” the ICG president added.He called the signers of the letter “obstructionists” who were “creating issues where there are none. There’s no reason to go to the press regarding something we did or did not do at the Executive Board meeting. I am the president of the union. And one of the parameters of my job description is to issue press releases.”He described the Executive Board vote “a huge victory” for himself and his backers, and “a paradigm shift” for Local 600. The ICG under its previous leadership, he said, had “for years only agreed to back getting tax incentives enacted here in this country as a way to combat runaway production.“This is the first time we have basically said foreign subsidies are hurting our members—we officially recognize that. So we’re going to put up money to start really, really upping the ante as far as an investigation of trade subsidies and runaway production is concerned.”The Board agreed to put up $15,000 for a new study, provided other guilds would pitch in to bring the total to $50,000, the funding needed to get a credible research effort launched.Some of Dunham’s key allies were not as positive about the bifurcated outcome. Tim McHugh, the head of FTAC and an ICG member who also participated in the Executive Board meeting, said the 30-to-27 vote to defeat formal backing for a 301(a) trade investigation was “a forfeit.”McHugh said he was “very disappointed after all the preparation we had done.” He attributed the close loss to the absence of some Board members who could have made the difference had they attended. “It all came down to a very big vote, and it would have been a clean victory for our side except that the people who could have made a difference were missing in action.”Members of the ICG’s Executive Board who defeated the resolution explicitly requesting “that the US Trade Representative investigate foreign film and television production subsidies… to determine if they are in conflict with existing trade law” argued that following such a course could isolate Local 600 at a critical juncture.With a new round of contract talks looming, support from IATSE president Tom Short and other IA guilds might not be there for issues more important to ICG members.Because Canada’s below-the-line guilds are part of the IA along with unions here, IATSE chief Short has adamantly opposed bringing a trade case.Dunham said that’s why pursuit of support for a 301(a) trade investigation from the IA is futile. He added, “There is a great amount of evidence that we have a problem with runaway production, and the issue is where did the work go? I think everybody pretty much agrees that most of the work first went to Canada. So how can the IA take the side of the Americans against the Canadians when they represent both?”Such comments don’t sit well with leaders of Canadian locals. “The people running Local 600 these days are well-intentioned but misguided, and they have a very parochial view of the world,” said Gerry Rutherford, head of IATSE Local 669 in Vancouver, the International Photographers Guild.“They refuse to acknowledge what’s happened globally in the last 15 years in the film and television business,” he added. “To think that it’s any different for them than it is for us is mistaken. In my opinion the relative value of the US and Canadian dollar has a bigger effect than anything else on where production goes.”“The fixation on runaway production under president Dunham’s leadership has totally hijacked the Local 600 agenda,” said Executive Board member and first national vice president Burrell, who voted against the second resolution. “As a result, topics like excessively long workdays, which are creating health and safety problems, compensation in postproduction for directors of photography and other key issues have been totally neglected.”At the upcoming mid-July IATSE national convention in Honolulu (see separate story), member unions will jostle to get their particular issues high on the agenda for the next round of contract talks between the IA—on behalf of its member unions—and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).The
Basic Agreement signed in 2003 officially expires next summer, but preliminary talks on a new agreement are likely to start this fall.“There’s been major damage done from this FTAC-related dispute and I’m not sure if it can be repaired easily,” said Burrell. He worried Local 600 could be hampered in getting support at the IA meeting for contract issues important to ICG members. “With national contract talks coming up, we need the backing of IATSE and other IA locals on camera-only issues in order to have any leverage,” he declared. “If we’re in disfavor because we’re no longer viewed as team players, maybe the IA won’t think our issues are important to them.”Even Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) who started the two-day meeting with a speech in which he said he was willing to back federal legislation to stem the migration of productions overseas, has been pulled into the controversy.The board members’ letter said Dunham “did exactly what Congressman Kucinich warned us against doing: You allowed the issue to divide the union.” An aide to the Ohio representative said Kucinich did not speak from a prepared text when he addressed the ICG Executive Board, and therefore could not confirm his exact remarks.Asked about what Congressman Kucinich told the NEB session, Dunham said “he was very supportive of our quest to end the outsourcing of our jobs. But when you have contentious issues, they certainly have the ability to split the union. He said, ‘Hey, let’s pull together.’”“I have clearly been a moderate across the board,” the president of Local 600 declared. “I have tried to reach out to both sides to come to a consensus and to work through the issues you have to work through as a union.” But Dunham acknowledged the cinematographers guild was fracturing. “It’s no secret that Local 600 is becoming a divided union.”

Written by Jack Egan

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