As Tony Soprano would say: You’re only as good as your last envelope.
The WGA East and WGA West have instituted a minimum income level required for members to be eligible to vote on the Minimum Basic Agreement.
Members of both guilds passed this joint “qualified voting” standard with 96 percent of those voting approving the changes. Polling via mail and bicoastal membership meetings Tuesday produced a total of 1,720 yes votes and 67 no votes. The guilds together have about 12,000 members.
In a letter to members sent out Wednesday, WGAE president Michael Winship and WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson outlined the amendments to the union’s bylaws. The official language of the main plank is as follows:
“To vote on a contract a member must either have earned a total of at least $30,000 under the contract in the preceding six years or have at least 15 pension years under the contract, but they do not have to be consecutive years. Once a person has 15 pension years, he or she remains eligible indefinitely.”
The issue of an earnings requirement last year became a hot-button issue for the Screen Actors Guild during the run-up to contract negotiations with the AMPTP. Some high-profile members of SAG circulated a petition supporting a new earnings threshold for eligibility to vote on ratifying the contract and any potential strike authorization, but the national board—at the time run by the Membership first party—scuttled the effort.
The upshot of that motion would have been to limit voting to those actively working under the contract in question (not those out of work), but critics described it as anti-democratic since it would take voting rights away from members in good standing.
Voting eligibility for individual guild elections and for staff members (WGA members working under staff news contracts) will remain unchanged. An additional amendment affects the makeup of the joint 17-person national bargaining committee—each WGA wing must now have at least four members, which constitutes an increase in participation for WGA East.
The new voting standards are a byproduct of an agreement negotiated by the two WGA wings in 2005 known as “the San Francisco Accords.”
Winship and Peterson stated in their letter: “The vote affirmed the basic principle that members who have more of a stake in a particular contract should vote on that contract or on a strike authorization in connection with that contract.”
Broadly speaking, the qualified voting standard would affect many more SAG members than WGA members, since at any one time a vast majority of actors are earning a small amount of income, and the actors’ union includes some 120,000 members.