Gary Dunham has been impeached and officially removed from office as president of the 5,700-member International Cinematographers Guild, the largest IATSE local announced on July 10. The ouster action followed a marathon two-day proceeding against Dunham over the July 8–9 weekend, with the Local 600 national executive board serving as the union’s trial body.“Dunham faced a series of charges for which he was found guilty,” according to the brief statement, which did not elaborate on the specifics or the votes. “The union considers this an internal matter,” the statement added.In all, according to informed sources, four charges containing six counts were leveled against Dunham, who was elected ICG president in April 2004. A clear majority of the executive board members in attendance at the special session voted him guilty on each count. The national executive board is the ultimate governing authority of the union. Three of the six counts were impeachable offenses and included charges that Dunham had spent union funds without authorization, according to the sources. There were no allegations, however, that Dunham used funds to enrich himself.“The conclusions were reached by the body that clearly Gary exceeded the authority of his office—that was the gist of all the charges,” interim ICG president Tom Weston told Below The Line. He declined to give specifics. “We will be revealing the details very soon on our website for the membership, and we will be considering what is advisable to release to the public as we go forward.” He said the camera guild did not want to jeopardize Dunham’s option to appeal the verdicts to IATSE.Weston, who is the guild’s national vice president and head of the East Coast branch of the Society of Camera Operators, will serve on an interim basis until the ICG executive board holds a meeting now tentatively set for August 5 to elect a new president. The next regular election is next June when all eligible members of Local 600 will be able to vote for a new president and other officers.Weston said that 55 executive board members out of a total of 65 came from around the country to attend the special session. The trial’s Saturday session went 12 hours, followed by another 15 hours on Sunday, with the trial finally finishing at 12:30 a.m. Dunham appeared for only a few minutes at the beginning of the Saturday session and then left. Dunham was not available for a response, nor was ICG executive director Bruce Doering. Dunham’s departure should not affect Doering’s tenure since his contract runs until the end of 2007. Doering did not attend the NEB trial of Dunham since it was open only to members, not staff.In recent remarks to colleagues, Dunham has traced the pending move against him to the consternation that greeted his election in 2004 as head of the renegade “Coalition for a Democratic Union” slate that achieved a surprise victory over the more establishment “Unite 600” group that was led by cinematographer Steven Lighthill, who is also a member of the America Society of Cinematographers. With only 30 percent of eligible members turning out to vote, Dunham got 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Lighthill.Dunham has, meanwhile, become the second elected leader of one of the Hollywood locals of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees to be ousted in recent months. In early May, Ronnie Cunningham, the longtime business agent of IATSE Local 44, the Affiliated Property Craftspersons Union, gave up his post just days before an impeachment trial was set to begin on a raft of allegations, including embezzlement and other misconduct. The executive board of Local 44 voted 10 to 5 to cut a deal with Cunningham to put the matter behind them rather than go ahead with a pending proceeding that they felt could have cost the guild hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct. Cunningham received $170,000 for the duration of his contract and did not make any admissions of guilt.After the impeachment of Dunham, a number of executive board members expressed optimism that wounds in the union could start healing. “The ICG is now in a position to go forward harmoniously,” said one member in attendance. Others weren’t so sure. “We’re like the red and the blue states, oh so closely divided,” said another. “There are two factions over there killing each other,” observed the head of another IA local. “This is not the end of the war.”At one point on Saturday the Los Angeles police even got involved when one of the executive board members came late and tried to get entry to the session but was denied. He was told he hadn’t responded in writing that he was going to attend, as the rules required. When he started to protest, the cops were called in. The matter was settled when he was allowed entry but told he could only vote on charges that were fully aired while he was present.A Dunham appeal to the IA to reverse the verdicts faces hurdles because Dunham and IA president Tom Short have repeatedly crossed swords. Dunham’s attempt in mid-2005 to get the ICG executive board to financially back an investigation into launching a trade case against Canada for unfairly subsidizing film and television production failed, but raised the ire of Short because the IA includes Canadian unions. Those in the ICG opposed to Dunham’s effort also claimed he had “hijacked the union’s agenda,” by focusing on the runaway production issue while ignoring questions more important to members.That issue erupted again at the start of 2006, when the role Dunham played during last year’s negotiations of a new three-year Hollywood Basic Agreement between IATSE and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers was called into question. Dunham’s decision to back the contract even though it included a measure that would drop mandatory staffing of camera operators on a shoot—and let directors of photography serve as operators—set off a firestorm.Camera operators, feeling they had been sold out, tried to scuttle the agreement. The executive board of Local 600, in support of the camera operators, voted to oppose the contract. Dunham, reversing positions, wound up calling for the defeat of the three-year contract even though he had voted to back it in the negotiations. Local 600 ended up as only one of two Hollywood locals to vote against the new three-year deal. Local 44 members also turned it down because of concern about cutbacks in health benefits.Dunham’s critics excoriated him for having entered the contract talks unprepared and for handling the negotiations ineptly. However, the contretemps over Dunham’s flip-flop over the camera-operator issue “was only the icing on the cake,” said one union source. So what was in the cake? The exact grounds for Dunham’s impeachment and dismissal, and the votes of the executive board on each of the charges, will hopefully get spelled out more transparently in the days and weeks ahead.
Written by Jack Egan