Longtime union leader enters Hollywood spotlight | ET REALITY


Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, executive director and chief negotiator of the actors’ union, has spent the last two decades working behind the scenes during contract negotiations. He knows the center of attention is the president of SAG-AFTRA, usually a well-known actor like the current incumbent, Fran Drescher.

But since the union went on strike on July 14 for the first time in 40 years, things have been different.

Over the past three months, Crabtree-Ireland, 51, has stepped out from behind the negotiating table and given fiery speeches, walked red carpets at film festivals and reached out to the union’s younger members on Instagram. . His more frequent appearances have given people ample opportunity to see the tattoos on his forearms, a visual clue to the extent to which the professional and the personal are intertwined for him. To the right are five symbols (a record, a play button, a film reel, a megaphone and a radio antenna) that represent the contracts he has negotiated for union members in the music, film and television, radio, commerce, video and broadcasting. On her left arm is a coil with five loops that represent the five children she adopted with her husband, John.

“For me it’s not just a job,” he said in an interview. “This is where I have spent the vast majority of my professional career and I truly care about what happens to our members.”

Now, however, Crabtree-Ireland faces its most challenging public moment. On Monday, when the union returns to the negotiating table with the studios in an attempt to resolve the strike that has paralyzed much of Hollywood, all eyes will be on it.

(Netflix co-chairman Ted Sarandos; Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav; Universal Pictures chief content officer Donna Langley; and Disney chief executive Robert A. Iger will also be present. along with chief negotiator studies, Carol Lombardini.)

When the Writers Guild of America reached a tentative agreement for its 11,500 members last Sunday, SAG-AFTRA was left as the only union waiting for a new agreement. Therefore, the development of this week’s negotiations will affect not only the tens of thousands of people in the Crabtree-Ireland union, but everyone in the entertainment industry.

The dual strikes have been financially devastating, with more than 100,000 behind-the-scenes workers such as location scouts, makeup artists and lighting technicians out of work. California’s economy has lost approximately $5 billion. Big studios like Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global have seen their stock prices fall. Analysts have estimated that the global box office will lose up to $1.6 billion in ticket sales due to films whose releases have been delayed until next year.

“I’m 100 percent sure he’s a dealmaker, realistic and understands the business,” Bryan Lourd, CEO of Creative Artists Agency, said of Crabtree-Ireland. “He has the list of what he has to get and what he can lose.”

Crabtree-Ireland said he was encouraged by the tentative agreement reached by the writers and was eager to reach an agreement for the actors. But he added that he felt no pressure because the actors were the only ones on strike. The boost he feels, he said, is “due to the economic impact and the impact on our members and others.”

Monday’s negotiations will be the first time the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, have spoken since the actors went on strike. By the time SAG-AFTRA pulled out, dialogue between the parties had reached a boiling point.

Disney’s Iger drew the ire of many writers and actors by saying those on strike were not being “realistic” in their demands. Drescher responded by saying that Disney should put Iger “behind doors and never let him talk to anyone” and compared him and the other studio heads to “land-owning magnates from a medieval era.”

Crabtree-Ireland was traditionally viewed by several studio executives as the voice of reason, but at a July 13 press conference announcing the strike, he appeared alongside Drescher and spoke passionately about the studios’ intentions. replace background actors with artificial actors. intelligence technology in perpetuity.

The studios issued a statement, arguing that AI deals could only be made for a specific project, but by then, AI had become a rallying cry for striking actors. Actors, like writers, have also said that the streaming era has worsened their pay and overall working conditions.

Crabtree-Ireland downplayed the volatile nature of the rhetoric in the interview and said Drescher’s comments about Iger were just a response to a statement that had angered “a very broad section of our members.”

“She was elected by the members to do this job,” he added. “So I feel very confident walking into a room with Fran and the rest of our negotiating team, who have had extraordinary unity throughout this entire process.”

The studio alliance declined to comment for this article.

While the writers’ deal appears to give actors and studios a plan for their negotiations, Crabtree-Ireland noted that SAG-AFTRA has different questions. For example, he noted that the new level of transparency achieved between writers and streaming companies regarding residual payments was “huge.” But the actors are seeking to secure a revenue-sharing deal with the studios, a proposal the alliance has deemed impossible.

“We really believe that companies need to share a portion of the revenue that comes from streaming,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “And we’re not currently considering an approach that doesn’t apply that way.”

Mr. Crabtree-Ireland joined SAG-AFTRA in 2000, graduated from Georgetown with a law degree from the University of California, Davis, and spent the first two years of his career in the County District Attorney’s Office of the Angels.

He rose quickly through the union, first as general counsel and then adding chief operating officer to his title. In 2021, he was named national executive director and chief negotiator, a position that pays $989,700 annually.

Outside of the office, Mr. Crabtree-Ireland raises her children ranging in age from 4 to 18 with her husband. The two first married in 2004, one of the first 100 same-sex couples to marry in San Francisco before the California Supreme Court annulled the unions.

Although he is well liked by both his colleagues and his opponents, his actions during the strike have earned him some criticism from his own members. Despite the loyalty shown on the picket lines, many of those who have dealt with the union behind the scenes describe a haphazard and disorganized approach, specifically when it comes to the rules about what its members can and cannot do during the strike.

One point of contention was the issue of interim agreements, which essentially allowed actors to work on and advertise projects that were not backed by the studios the union was striking against.

However, the rules were confusing and many actors were confused about what was allowed. Comedian actress Sarah Silverman damned SAG-AFTRA on their Instagram account, and Viola Davis refused to begin production on a film that had been granted a tentative deal. Soon, publicists began harassing the union to clarify whether actors could promote independent films without worrying about crossing the picket line.

On August 24, less than a week before the start of the Venice and Telluride film festivals, Crabtree-Ireland issued a statement that read in part: “Whether picketing, working on productions approved by the Interim Agreement or maintaining employment in one of our other permissible and non-cancellable contracts, our members’ support of their union is empowering and inspiring.”

Crabtree-Ireland also spoke to many actors who had concerns.

“I underestimated how quickly our members were going to need that information,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “That’s one of the few things I would do differently.”

It was a pragmatic response, befitting the reputation Crabtree-Ireland has built over his career. And many in the entertainment industry hope that same style will be key in negotiations that could get Hollywood working again.

“It’s tricky to navigate because you’re trying to please your members and fight for their issues, and a lot of them have different issues,” said Lindsay Dougherty, lead organizer for Teamsters Local 399, the union that represents Hollywood workers such as truckers. and casting directors. and animal trainers. “Obviously it’s not all up to him, but I’m sure he feels the pressure.”

Brooks Barnes contributed reports.

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