Put the ‘You’ in Union


Dance teacher Sergio Leal showing Guild members some salsa steps at the Latin Steering Committee’s Salsa Night Fever event held in April at the Guild’s Dede Allen Seminar Room, which became “Dede’s Disco” for the evening. Editors Guild events like this offer members an opportunity to get involved, network and enjoy themselves. Photo by Edward Landler

by Jason Brotman

What was your last interaction with the Editors Guild? If your answer is “paying my dues” or “attending orientation,” this article is for you. Actually, it’s not; it’s for every member. But if those were your answers, I implore you to read on. Don’t worry, there’s no lecture here or some boring, in-depth treatise on the history of organized labor. Rather, this is a personal story and a rallying cry.

I am writing this as a new member of the Membership Outreach Committee. I joined Local 700 in 2014. I had worked for three years in non-union reality — which wasn’t my particular area of interest — before getting my break and landing my first union gig, an NBC drama. I remember attending the Guild orientation meeting, helmed by National Organizer Rob Callahan. I was thoroughly excited to hear about the strength of the health and pension plans, labor dispute assistance and the prospect of getting involved with the Board of Directors.

But then I dove into the work and business of our industry (namely, building out my network and finding my next gigs) and life happened (I moved, got married and raised a puppy). Over time, I fell into a way of thinking that I’m sure many members do. The union was an afterthought that I took for granted, an entity I considered similar to the DMV — a gatekeeper whose building I’d visit if I needed to complete some administrative task. But then something changed.

Having advanced in my personal life, I now had larger goals in mind; it was time to get involved.

Fortunately, just as I came to this decision, President Alan Heim, ACE, sent out an e-mail asking members to attend the annual General Membership Meeting to discuss current working conditions. I honestly hadn’t realized such an event existed, so I jumped at the chance. I was very happy to see a full house in the Dede Allen Seminar Room that night; over 100 members were in attendance. National Executive Director Cathy Repola proceeded to take questions for about two hours on any topic. The exchange was fascinating to witness. I decided that new voices were needed in the discussion, and that mine could be a positive contribution.

Shortly thereafter, I became aware of, and joined, the I Am the Union Facebook group and began speaking up about topics for which I cared deeply. It was there that I first made contact with some Board members. By diving deep into the issues, I learned how our Guild functions fundamentally: the role of the Board of Directors, how negotiations work and how much autonomy (and, in some aspects, lack thereof) we have under current IATSE rules. This further moved me to action. I was told that if I wanted to get involved, I should attend a Board meeting.

At the Guild’s annual General Membership Meeting, National Executive Director Cathy Repola proceeded to take questions for about two hours on any topic. The exchange was fascinating to witness. I decided that new voices were needed in the discussion, and that mine could be a positive contribution.

At my first meeting, I met a few of the Board members with whom I had spoken online. We had great conversations and they recommended I ask to be added to the Membership Outreach Committee. I had come to learn that the 100-member showing for the General Membership Meeting was unprecedented in recent years and, unfortunately, the exception, not the rule.

I was also able to join the Website Committee, as Guild communications are key to outreach. I have since attended multiple Board and committee meetings at which my input was welcome. I have helped to contribute to important work that’s being done to better engage our fellow members in the living entity that is our union. And that’s what it is: our union.

This is key. “The union,” as it’s often referred to in an arm’s-length way, isn’t some DMV-like bureaucracy, as I had perceived it to be. It’s also not a self-sustaining monolith that will inevitably get the best deal for its membership. Like anything organic, it needs nourishment. Local 700, our Guild, is us…all of us — assistant editors, picture editors, sound editors, re-recording mixers, music editors, visual effects editors, engineers and the other disciplines that constitute this organization.

We are a collection of highly skilled, experienced, talented tradespeople and artists who have an innate responsibility to ourselves and our fellow members. The way to exercise that responsibility is to stay informed and speak up. How can we expect our leaders to prioritize our needs properly and get the job done if we don’t have skin in the game and contribute?

In hindsight, while it’s disappointing that the strong showing at the General Membership Meeting was an anomaly, it’s also a sign that there is an energy out there waiting to be harnessed. Members want to be heard and to have their concerns addressed. The good news is that there are many ways to get involved:

I Am the Union(Members-Only Facebook group): Come join the discussion! Ask questions about the various contracts, debate policy matters and connect with fellow members. The group currently includes some 3,000 out of the over 8,000 members of Local 700. Check it out and tell your friends and colleagues. There’s been a flurry of activity as of late, and the more energy we have there, the more we can accomplish.

Board of Directors Meetings(Monthly):Any active member in good standing can attend by simply reaching out to Executive Administrator Lisa Dosch (ldosch@editorsguild.com) and requesting to be put on the guest list (space permitting). Come meet your representatives, observe the discussion of important current issues affecting our members, and enjoy a meal (free food, people!). If you’ve been a Guild member for at least two consecutive years (with additional criteria), you can run for a Board seat representing your classification. One third of the Directors are up for re-election each year.

Guild Committees:Have a great idea you feel needs to be heard? Hate something and want to fix it? The committees want to hear from you! There are a number of committees overseeing different aspects of the Guild, including Membership Outreach, Publications and Diversity. To view the whole list, with contact information, visit www.editorsguild.com/about/committees.

Quarterly Mixers and Other Networking Events: These are usually free events at restaurants/bars/attractions around town. Additionally, the committees recently have been putting on fantastic events of their own. In particular, Diversity’s various steering committees’ activities have included Trivia Night (African-American), Salsa Night Fever (Latin), and a panel/mixer celebrating 10 years of RuPaul’s Drag Race (LGBTQ). Networking is the name of the game, so come out and have a great time! Watch for “MPEG Events” e-mails and keep an eye on the calendar at www.editorsguild.com/calendar.

We are a collection of highly skilled, experienced, talented tradespeople and artists who have an innate responsibility to ourselves and our fellow members.

In recent years, we have been witness to a political awakening, and it should serve as a wake up call for union involvement as well. Over the past three decades, unions all over the country have been diminishing in strength while the corporations with which organized labor contends have grown ever-larger and more powerful. Until now, our industry’s long history of union activity has shielded us from some of the most damaging developments in this area.

However, especially with the advent of streaming and the culture of Silicon Valley seeping into our business, it’s now more important than ever to be vigilant and united. Two key factors that determine our strength as organized labor are union culture and membership engagement. A union is only as strong as its members are informed, impassioned and involved. If we are to address past setbacks and plan for the inevitable changes to come, we need all hands on deck.

Remember, it’s not “the union.” It’s “our union.” We are all key players in our success. Every individual. You  are the union. Imagine what contribution you could make.

For more information or to get more involved, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Membership Outreach Committee at outreach@editorsguild.com.