Mike, since you’re a member of Screen Actors’ Guild

From the MRW Water Cooler

Q: Today I read few articles about the threat of a strike. While I’m reading these articles, the only thing I could say is Are They Kidding?

No Maria, they are not. Unions form for different reasons. Unions strike for different reasons. Not all union action reflects the will of many of its members. In fact, not all unions consist of members who actually wanted to join. It’s complicated. But no, SAG is not kidding. They will most certainly strike.

At this time, in this country, with the amount of people losing their jobs, with some people one step away from losing their homes, here is a group of people who are so out of touch with the rest of us, with the pulse of the country.

Perhaps we know different people in the business? I’m friendly with half a dozen SAG members who are behind in their mortgages. (And several more that have always been behind.) They live in modest homes, and have children in public school. In fact, the vast majority of my friends in this business are in no position to even own a home. They get by, but not extravagantly, and not with much left over. There are some very wealthy people in The Screen Actors Guild, but 90% of the money generated is made by 10% of the members. You are mistaken to believe that the majority of SAG members are “out of touch.”

It may be the only business I know of that you can make a terrible product, be paid millions for it, and be paid to make the same garbage again.

Really? When’s the last time you flew a commercial airline? Or stayed in a dirty hotel room? Or sent a letter that never arrived? I might suggest a long list of sometimes disappointing products and services turned out by companies with a strong union work force. Unions do not exist for the purposes of customer satisfaction. And regarding entertainment, let’s not forget where all that revenue is coming from. The “garbage” that my industry produces would dry up overnight, if it weren’t so richly rewarded by people with access to televisions and electricity.

Now being I have never acted in my life, I can’t say they don’t work hard, but if I was to put the men who pick up my garbage against them, I’d have to say the person picking up my garbage wins hands down.

In a garbage collection contest, sure. But the actors would likely prevail in a talent show, right?

You really can’t compare the two. Unions appear most sympathetic when their focus is on working conditions and quality of life – even more so when their members deliver a product or service that benefits us all in a way that’s undisputedly objective – i.e., cleaning up after us. Your dim view of SAG comes from the fact that you do not see any quality or real-world importance in their finished product. Understandable. But remember, unions do not exist to assure quality. They exist to pursue a definition of “fairness” on behalf of their members. With SAG, the issues are not really about working conditions – not anymore at least. It’s about a more reasonable distribution of the profits. Last year for instance, the DVD market generated over 10 billion dollars. The actors on those DVD’s got no share of that. Yet, there would be no product to sell without them.

Now being a member of SAG, I would like to hear your thoughts on a threat of a strike, and I would also like to know if this could affect Dirty Jobs.

Honestly, I’m not sure. Dirty Jobs does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Unions to which I belong, because Discovery is not a signatory of either. However, if I were to steadfastly adhere to the by-laws of SAG and AFTRA, I would forego any opportunity to work with those Networks that do not have an agreement with either union. You’re asking me a dangerous and difficult question, but what it really comes down to is this – Dirty Jobs is a show about regular people doing the kinds of jobs that benefit all of us. It’s not a game show or a talk show or a sitcom. Telling those stories is more important to me than following the instructions of a union that I was forced to join twenty years ago, and is not recognized by my current employer. Unless I’m threatened with a fine I can’t afford, I suspect the show will go on.

I believe this is a relevant discussion in how this country decides what work is important, and what isn’t.

I believe you’re right.

I hope you will take the time to give us your thoughts on this.

Your wish is my command.


Leave a Reply