Chris Lehane likes to cite his work for the Screen Actors’ Guild in 2002 as evidence of his pro-union bona fides. But a research piece on the new Chrislehane.blogspot site suggests that he was brought on to sell a bad deal to the rank-and-file, not to fight for their rights against corporate interests:
The 2002 negotiations were over a 50-year old SAG rule that prevented talent agencies from being owned by companies that employ actors. The SAG board in early 2002 negotiated a deal, championed by President Melissa Gilbert, that would have allowed ad agencies and independent production companies, but not the major studios, to own up to 20% of the talent agencies. Many SAG members opposed this weakening of the old rule, concerned that it would hurt their interests to allow greater corporate ownership.
Fabiani and Lehane were hired by Gilbert and Robert Pisano, CEO of SAG, to sell the deal to a skeptical membership base. As with the double-dealing in the 2001 energy crisis, the hiring of Lehane itself aggravated the internal split within SAG. SAG Treasurer Kent McCord, a leader of the opposition to the talent agencies deal, refused to sign off on pay for the duo until the fees were disclosed and complained about not having been informed about the hiring of the pair. It was at this point that Lehane gave his self-serving quote about taking a reduced fee – 1/3 of the usual – in order to help workers:
"we believe strongly in the need to preserve the strength of the union and this agreement does that. We both come from liberal, progressive backgrounds, and this union represents working people." source
The quote was specifically designed to defuse the criticism over the pro-agreement SAG faction having hired the duo. Lehane continued to spin the agreement, trying to divide the SAG membership by pointing to the agreement’s provisions to create a “Actor Theft Protection Fund” and rules about pay for overseas work.
It didn’t work. Although Valerie Harper, another agreement opponent, failed to beat Gilbert in the race for SAG president in March 2002, the SAG rank and file rejected the agreement in an April 2002 vote. Once again, Lehane’s hiring became the issue, exacerbating an existing divide without actually bringing anything of value – in this case ratification of the agreement – to his employers.
Read the whole thing. It details the legacy of Lehane’s political failures as members of the Democratic consultant class.
Lehane wasn’t exactly working for free — although he probably should have been.