June Membership Meeting Eliminates Slate Voting in 802 Elections

Volume C, No. 7/8July, 2000

Joy Portugal

A bylaw resolution which eliminates slate voting in Local 802 elections of officers was adopted by a vote of 84 to 60 at the June 20 membership meeting.

The meeting was just the third in six years to draw a quorum. It began at 3:30 p.m., when a quorum count showed 127 members in attendance.

Debate on the measure centered on the origins of slate voting at Local 802, and whether its abolition would result in a more diverse leadership body. Speakers alternated between supporters and opponents of the resolution. Following are key points made in their presentations:

First to take the floor was Martin Agee, one of the authors of the bylaw resolution. He noted that over the years Local 802 elections “have resulted in the election of large groups of candidates running on a single platform,” and contended that this has produced “a one-party system of governing our local…without any form of checks and balances.”

Agee said he responds to the argument “that people like to see candidates in an election listed by party or slate because it makes it easier to tell what they stand for,” by asking whether it is in our best interest to utilize “a system that puts in place officers, executive board and trial board members who all essentially hold the same views.” He argued that “eliminating slates is the first step toward establishing a diverse administration, with diverse ideas.”

Jack Gale challenged a statement Agee had made in the May Allegro, that the present system of slate designations, which dates back “at least as far as the Arons administration,” is “a vehicle which made it difficult or impossible to run an election campaign against a then current administration.” This is “the exact opposite of the truth,” Gale said. The use of slates “was promoted and passed by reformers, not the incumbents. It was designed to make it easier to beat incumbents, not more difficult,” and in 1982, “thanks only to slates, the entire Arons administration was run out of office” by reformers who “won on our philosophy and our ideas.”

He also noted that, under the present system, candidates can run without party affiliations and voters can vote against party lines any time they want to, and he argued that presenting the voters with an alphabetical list of candidates will make it harder, not easier, to elect an executive board with members representing a wide spectrum of musical fields.

Evan Johnson said he believes the basic issue is “simply a question about power. The Members Party has been in power for almost 20 years. We need somehow to spread that power around among other people and we believe that this bylaw change will accomplish that,” he said. “Jack made the point that slates was a reform issue. Well, we’re almost 20 years later and the reform issue now is the elimination of slates.”

There may be things that could be done to make it easier to run candidates – such as reducing the number of candidates required to form a slate – “but this is not one of them,” said John O’Connor. “I believe that democracy is much better served if you can identify the people running for office with their principles.”

Steve Mack argued that “change is a necessary element in a very chaotic world. We live at a time where our futures are not quite as assured as they once were and I think that, as a result, it would serve us best to consider something that would shake things up and not…simply continue as they’ve been,” he said. While the bylaw change “might be frightening and…might seem to be a kind of restrictive step to take, I think it’s very much in our best interest that we should make a change and damn the torpedos and full speed ahead.”

Bill Crow pointed out that people have always voted for the candidates of their choice, as indicated by the fact that members of a slate have always received divergent numbers of votes. “Possibly, what might be worrying the people who proposed this is not so much the existence of a slate but the ability to vote for an entire slate with one check, and that’s a different issue.”

Fred Eckler, who noted that he is one of the few people who have run as an independent against the current administration, said the bylaw may be “a little too sweeping, but it’s the only one we have right now and I would suggest people vote for it.” Eckler stressed the importance of changes that would make it easier for independents to get the word out about their campaigns, and for “someone who is not part of a slate to actually run against a slate.”

Abe Rosen described Arons administration’s opposition to the bylaw resolution aimed at listing candidates by slate or tickets, which was submitted by reformers in 1966. “They knew there was an opposition out there and they feared an organized opposition,” Rosen said. “It’s not democratic to eliminate slates just to eliminate competition. It’s a manipulation of the political process at the expense of the democratic process.” He urged members to preserve slate voting, to form slates, and to compete with platforms and ideas.

Larry Rawdon contended that the current system “discourages people from running against an established party…There’s some concern that if all the candidates are listed in alphabetical order we won’t know what they stand for, what their platform is. I don’t happen to believe that. But let’s say it forced us to do a little bit of homework: that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I would encourage you all to vote for this and, when there is an election, let’s turn out.”

Bruce Bonvissutto noted that changing the bylaws “will not eliminate slates; we can all continue to organize in parties, as we have in the past…What it will do is withhold the information about slates from the voter at the time when it matters the most: in the voting booth.”

As an executive board member during the 1980s, he said, there were “many key issues in which I was on the other side of the issue from officers in my administration. The Members Party…insulated me from executive retribution and from not being able to speak my mind, freely and often,” because of a mechanism whereby the ticket was chosen by secret ballot by a committee of 35 or 40 people. “As a board member, I wasn’t afraid of speaking my mind because I felt that that system would protect me.” Bonvissutto stressed that “bylaws should only be changed when we are certain that the existing bylaw is ineffective, unjust or unworkable. Our current system is used and accepted by organizations and unions throughout the democratic world.”

Juliet Haffner, a co-author of the resolution, responded to concerns that eliminating slates from the ballot would make it harder to know what candidates stand for, by pointing out that, “as individuals, we know people in the various jobs we go to that we…trust and like and support…It’s not as if we’re not going to know who these people are and what they’re about.”

Murray Rothstein, author of the bylaw resolution whose adoption in 1966 established slate voting, described the chaotic situation that prevailed before the change. The ballot for the Executive Board and Trial Board, which had nine positions each, “was complete chaos. It was almost impossible to tell who belonged to what,” he said. “Those whose names started with A always got the most votes. Hence, Max Arons was never defeated. There was a candidate named Al Zucker. Needless to say, he was never elected.” Rothstein said the independents had little name recognition and felt they had no chance of winning election if their names, which were comparatively unknown, were mixed with those of fairly well-known board members, in a pool that was arranged alphabetically. “The reason we succeeded in throwing them out in ’82 was because the membership could identify who it was that we were trying to throw out.”

“I don’t think that the people who are here and the people who are putting forth this bylaw…will have any problem in terms of name recognition,” said Larry Fader. “I think the fact that we have people here today is based on the fact that there is a huge amount of dissatisfaction in…all parts of our field. There’s dissatisfaction in the freelance community; there’s dissatisfaction on Broadway; there’s dissatisfaction at Radio City and there’s dissatisfaction in at least some aspects of those of us who work at Lincoln Center. I’m a proponent of change and I would urge you to vote in favor of it.”

Fader then moved that the question be called. The resolution passed by a vote of 84 to 60.