Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Whither SAG? It's Not Looking Good

Labor unions in the United States have a rich and weird history. All the unions have their colorful characters, triumphant moments, and skeletons in the closet (or at the bottom of the East River). But can any combination of AFL-CIO weirdness, over the years, in the auto, steel, or other trade unions even begin to approximate the bad soap opera that has turned into the union formally known as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG)? I will not bore you with the litany of pettiness and vitriol that is substituting for internal dialogue in the union, suffice to say it is hard to distinguish SAG these days from a seventh-grade playground fight between the cool kids and the uncool kids.

In a union where blogs, press releases, open letters to editors, and viral videos tout various union faction positions on the current AMPTP negotiations, an innocent bystander would be hard pressed to understand why something as private as a labor negotiation would be handled as publicly as a DVD launch or major movie premiere. Can you imagine the Teamsters taking out full-page ads in the transportation industry’s version of the "trades" (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, etc.) slamming the other side in some negotiation in a manipulative attempt to win points? They might beat each other up and smash the means of production, during tough negotiations, but at least they have the good taste to keep union business internal and private. Just ask Jimmy Hoffa.

But, when it comes to the Hollywood guilds (WGA, SAG, AFTRA, DGA, IATSE, etc.), I suppose they take Louis B. Meyer’s quote to heart that, “Everybody is in the movie business,” therefore everyone has some right to know the sorry state of things within them. I actually do care what happens to this noble union, as I write and produce (or try to anyway) and have a keen interest and affection for the acting profession. I can’t do a lick of it myself, but I’m in awe of actors and what they do. That their union is in free fall and imploding on pure ego-driven petulance is a situation too sad for words and too pathetic to be honored with more than a waggling “shame on you” index finger.

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY! I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of the contract negotiations that have gone belly-up with the AMPTP, or get caught up in who is right or wrong. First of all, it’s not my place, and second of all, it’s not my place. I’m only concerned in this post with the incredible lack of EQ (emotional intelligence) being exhibited by all sides. Emotional intelligence, for those who do not know, is regarded more highly than IQ (intelligence quotient) in predicting an individual’s success in work, and in life. The central qualities any EQ savvy person (or organization) should have are:
  • Self-awareness — the ability to read one's emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
  • Self-management — involves controlling one's emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
  • Social awareness — the ability to sense, understand, and react to others' emotions while comprehending social networks.
  • Relationship management — the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.
These qualities are not airy-fairy, touchy-feely, new age hokum. These are actually demonstrable and empirically proven human qualities ALL human beings possess that are ESSENTIAL for surviving in a social environment (uh—like a labor union). The higher your EQ, the more successful you will be. EQ determines up to 80% of your success factors in working and living life; IQ is only 20%.

So, do you think the four qualities listed above might be lacking in the folks charged with the futures of 120,000+ SAG members? Do you think they might just get out of their own little heads long enough to get some serious help and hire someone to come in and guide them through the interpersonal morass they are lost within? I heard a crisis management consultant had been hired, but the result was disastrous. Okay, try a new one! Call me (I’m serious), I know somebody! SAG needs help and I’m not talking about a new negotiator! SAG needs to get its EQ house in order and start telling itself the truth: until egos can be taken out of the equation and all the poison-personality crap taken off the boardroom table SAG is headed for the trade union equivalent of—well, oblivion.

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