Is the WGA Bullying Non-Members?

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Hey, folks--

At long last, I am finally back to civilization, after 8 days of no Internet access or cell service, which was-- strangely-- AWESOME!

So first of all-- thank you to everyone who has emailed over the last week... I promise I'll get to your messages, questions, and posts asap. In the mean time, an interesting topic I wanted to talk about...

I came home to find an email debate going on between some of my writer-friends. Last week, the WGAW (Writers Guild of America, West) Board of Directors sent out a guild-wide email publicly outting three writers who had violated the union's strike rules last year.

As the email states, "the Board of Directors [is authorized] to adopt Strike Rules that members are required to follow in the event of a work stoppage. The purpose of these rules is to enable the Guild to achieve the best possible contract for writers. The Constitution also establishes disciplinary procedures under which any member accused of violating the Constitution or the Strike Rules is afforded a due process hearing before a Trial Committee consisting of five rank-and-file WGAW members."

The email goes on to explain that three writers violated these rules, and it identifies two of them by name:

One is Jon Maas, a WGA member who worked on a one-hour pilot during the strike and was fined "a fine equal to 110% of the compensation Mr. Maas received for writing the pilot teleplay."

The other is David Hensley, a non-member who "was found guilty of writing and submitting scripts to a struck company for a daytime serial. As a penalty, the Board ordered that he be permanently barred from membership in the Guild."

My friends were debating the ethics of publicly outing these writers. Did it smack of HUAC-era vindictiveness? Some said yes; others said no, explaining the importance of unity amongst writers fighting for fair and equal treatment.

I'm torn, but here-- for me-- is a slightly different issue, and where I think the Guild is behaving wrongly and thuggishly. (And I say this as a huge supporter of most unions, especially the Writers Guild. In fact, I'll be there tonight for a meeting on organizing reality...)

David Hensley is not a member. He does not pay dues to the organization of the Writers Guild. So he shouldn't be held accountable, or be punished, for breaking their rules. The Guild should have no right to punish someone who's not part of their organization.

Now, the argument against that is that writers must stick together and support each other, especially in times of crisis, and if Hensley ever WANTS to be part of the Guild, he needs to play by their mandates.

Okay, sure, maybe-- I get that, in the happy world of theory... but the Guild can'd demand support and obedience from people who A) don't pay dues, and B) don't receive the Guild's support in return. It would be one thing if Hensley were a former member who had quit the union (like Robert Rodriguez and the DGA)... or a member who had gone fi-core (like George Clooney)... but it's another thing entirely to punish, threaten, or intimidate non-members who are simply trying to feed their families. (It seems, to be honest, to be much closer to the intimidation and blacklisting of which the WGA was accused by the studios during last year's strike... and to which the WGA took particular offense. After all, they're the organization where the historic Hollywoodblacklisting most hits home.)

I'm no expert in union laws and politics, but it seems to me that if the Guild wants support from writers who are non-members, it should make them members.

It wouldn't be hard for the Guild to say to daytime writers like Hensley, or reality and game show writers, or non-union animation writers...

"We know we don't have jurisdiction over your genres, but we're willing to offer you membership into the Guild. You can pay dues like other members... and receive full membership benefits (health insurance, access to resources, etc.)... but you'll have to give up all your non-union work. Or you can choose NOT to join the Guild and continue doing your non-union work... but you'll receive no support, protection, or benefits from us."

This seems just to me. And mutually beneficial.

And while I'm a big supporter of the Guild, punishing and banning non-members for trying to make a living doing what they do-- writing-- doesn't seem like the behavior of an organization claiming to stick up for the little guys, writers, an often dumped-on group of Hollywood artists. In fact, it seems like behavior I'd expect from the other guys: the bullies. I fully believe in supporting the Guild and writers of all stripes. But this is not support; it's discouragement, oppression, and an abuse of power. The Guild is better than this... or should be.

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