Why is Transparency Important?

Do you wish that AGMA better represented the will of the membership?

If so, do you know how to make your case to AGMA’s governance?

Once an issue has been raised, how do you find out what has been discussed, what action will be taken, and when you can expect to see results?

One of the major planks of A Voice for All’s platform is transparency in governance, which is a pillar of the union democracy movement.

Union governance is an instrument of the collective will of the membership. Its success or failure is measured solely by how well it is able to put the agenda of the membership as a whole into practice.

It is not enough simply to ensure that any member CAN engage with governance. Rather, our aim is to insist that our members are informed about the issues facing our union, can easily learn HOW to engage with governance, and are actively ENCOURAGED to engage with governance.

In order to achieve this, major changes are required – we must:

AGMA’s governance currently does the bare minimum to inform you of your rights. Our members deserve more information than they have and the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about the direction AGMA should take. Labor Notes co-director Mark Brenner puts it far better than I ever could: “The best leaders trust the members. They have faith that their co-workers, when presented with the same information and analysis they have, will reach the same conclusions.” This is the kind of transparency all of the V4A candidates hope to bring to AGMA – transparency that will empower our members to govern themselves.

 

Observing Governance

 

AGMA is under no legal obligation to provide access to minutes from meetings of the Board of Governors. And, though it is common practice among labor unions, we are also not obligated to provide an annual report by the Board to AGMA’s membership.

Accordingly, AGMA neither makes minutes of Board of Governors meetings available to its members nor issues any annual reports, making AGMA an outlier among entertainment unions, which by and large offer much greater access to the workings of their governance.

SAG-AFTRA issues reports on the actions of their National Board to the general public on their website. Here’s an example:

https://www.sagaftra.org/national-board-report-13

Actors’ Equity gives its members access to the minutes of the meetings of its National Council (to read – not to copy) upon an in-person request at any of their offices. You can consult their policy here:

https://www.actorsequity.org/aboutequity/howweoperate/Council/

There’s something else worth calling attention to in the above link: “Paid-up members are welcome to observe Council and Board meetings, space permitting.”

AGMA has policies regarding the auditing of Board of Governors meetings by rank-and-file members, but as those policies were never (as far as I have been able to discern) published to the membership, I would be in violation of board confidentiality policy were I to disclose to a member what our meeting auditing policies are.

This is where we get into the issue of education and encouragement.

 

Empowering Our Members

 

At Actors’ Equity’s regional meetings, if a quorum is achieved, and a motion brought at that regional meeting is adopted and thus sent through to their National Council, the full disposition of that motion, including how each member of council voted, is made available to all members on the secure side of their website. If you are a paid-up member of Equity, you can see an example here:

https://members.actorsequity.org/equitynews/news/Resolutions0716/

Equity makes it easy to find out about this mechanism for direct governance and continually encourages its members to use it. Every time Equity holds a regional or national meeting, the meeting announcement is accompanied by instructions for how rank-and-file members can submit motions for consideration.

Now, admittedly, AGMA has the same process for members to put forth motions at area meetings for consideration. If a motion is adopted by the members at the area meeting, it must be considered by the Board of Governors. However, most members have no idea that they are able to do this, much less understand how to go about it, because the process whereby they would discover this is as follows:

  1. Login to MyAGMA
  2. Visit the “Policies & Procedures” section of the website and find the “Constitution” page.
  3. Click the link at the bottom of the page to download a copy of AGMA’s Constitution and By-Laws.
  4. Consult Article IX, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states: “Any motion, rule, resolution, order or action of any kind, or any nature, whatsoever, taken or passed in any geographic area membership meeting must be filed promptly with the Board of Governors at the National Office of the Guild, and shall not become effective unless approved by the Board of Governors, provided, however, that the Board of Governors must report back to the next semi-annual geographic area meeting as to the disposition of the matter.”
  5. Consult Article I of the By-Laws, which states: “At all meetings of the membership, in any geographic area, a quorum shall be necessary. In the case of the New York geographic area, the quorum shall be that declared by a majority of the Board of Governors providing there is a quorum of the Board of Governors present at the membership meeting, and such quorum of the membership meeting may not be less than fifty (50) active members in good standing. In the case of Membership meetings outside the city of New York the quorum shall be set by the Area Committee of such area but in no event should such quorum be less than twenty-five (25) members in good standing.”

So, this information is available, provided you are able to find, download, and dive 18 pages into a 32-page document.

Looking back at over a decade of invitations to AGMA New York Area Meetings, I see no mention of the possibility of conducting business and submitting motions if a quorum is achieved, or even what constitutes a quorum. What I read about is the availability of free flu shots. Thus, it should not be surprising that I cannot recall a time when a quorum was achieved for an area meeting in New York.

Perhaps many AGMA members are apathetic and would take no advantage of any of these resources were they offered. However, I believe that were AGMA to equip all of its members with the information necessary to successfully petition their leaders as well as the encouragement for them to do so, the result would be much greater participation by the rank-and-file.

 

Holding Governance Accountable

 

Another major consequence of AGMA’s secrecy and lack of encouragement to directly petition governance is that all of us have very little information about the record of those who serve in governance. It’s not just that rank-and-file members aren’t aware of the motions and issues that have come before the Board, and how individual members voted on those issues – members don’t even have access to attendance reports that would shed light on the level of dedication shown by each member of governance asking for your vote. Imagine if you were asked to vote to reelect a Member of Congress without being allowed to know anything about their attendance or voting record.

In the past, AGMA members have had little more to go on than a brief statement from each candidate accompanying the ballot. This year, V4A is committed to providing you with as much information as we possibly can so you can make an informed choice. Going forward, we will work to make necessary changes to AGMA’s policies to ensure that you will always have the information you need to decide who should represent you in governance.

Many of AGMA’s members feel disconnected from the union, and it is no wonder, when the hurdles one has to clear in order to participate are so high. We stand the best chance of solving the problems in our industries if we all work together. This doesn’t just mean electing the leaders we feel best capable of representing us – it means staying involved to ensure that your concerns are addressed and governance is held accountable if they are not.

More transparency, encouragement for the members to engage, and governance accountability will foster more member involvement and bring about better category representation in governance, policy and bargaining priorities that better match the needs of every category of member, encouragement for the next generation of union leaders to step up, and a sense of investment in AGMA’s future for everyone. Transparency is the first and most essential ingredient for building a stronger AGMA.