I've been a member of the Screen Actors Guild since the early 1990s when the McLaughlin Group had a cameo appearance in the movie "Dave." Hollywood director Ivan Reitman came to Washington to film us, and when the lines written for us failed to elicit the spirited debate the group is known for, Reitman went to Plan B. He described the plot of the movie, which has a president falling into a coma and a lookalike taking his place, and the confusion that ensues. He told us to talk about it like we would any other issue, and that's what we did. At the end, John McLaughin, creator and host of the program, threw up his arms and said, "Who needs reality!"
Joining SAG was a condition of appearing in "Dave," and then for a handful of other gigs playing myself as a Washington pundit. I remain a card-carrying member of SAG, which is why I received an alert late last week asserting SAG's solidarity
with the "Save the Dream" rallies
held in front of state houses and in major cities across the country on Saturday. The message to me and other SAG members was to get out there and "stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin" by joining fellow union members, the AFL-CIO and other supporters lining up on the ramparts.
I didn't get out there, and I haven't yet heard reports that Tina Fey or Alec Baldwin joined the protesters, but I'm sure as members in good standing of SAG, we were all there in spirit. And I thought of someone else I suspect would be standing up for collective bargaining, and that's former SAG President Ronald Reagan. Republicans cheering Gov. Scott Walker's unyielding stance against Wisconsin's public employee unions overlook Reagan's activism as a union president, citing only his firing of striking air traffic controllers as president. Walker and other GOP governors hold up that decision as their model in the current confrontation with organized labor.
Reagan was a tough negotiator as SAG president,
and I can't imagine that he would want to do away with collective bargaining. He headed SAG during two critical periods, from 1947-1952, a time of significant labor unrest when SAG was negotiating its first contract in television. Reagan performed well enough in the job that he was brought back in 1959 to lead the negotiations that produced the first pension and health plan for SAG members, along with a nice residuals benefit for films made beginning in 1960 once they were replayed on television.
Granted, private sector unions are different from public employee unions, and Hollywood is different altogether, but across that divide, there is a certain bond. As the SAG alert puts it, "If collective bargaining rights can be stripped away in a strong union state like Wisconsin, it can happen anywhere. Various anti-labor bills have recently been introduced in dozens of states. And, it is believed that if this action succeeds in Wisconsin, more and more anti-union efforts may spread across the country and ultimately could affect all labor organizations, including Screen Actors Guild." Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and yes, Ronald Reagan, couldn't have said it better.