Lewis Rothenberg Resigns As President of Cinematographers Guild, Cites “Differences” With Union’s Senior Staff

David Robb

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Lewis Rothenberg has resigned as president of the Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600, citing “differences” with the union’s senior staff and national officers. He was elected to the post last May, defeating longtime incumbent Steven Poster.

In a message Friday to the local’s members and staff, Rothenberg said “that my vision for this union, as to who runs it and how it should be run, is not fully aligned with some of our senior staff and National Officers. While I truly believe everyone in the leadership of this Local has the members in mind, there are major ideological differences between some of us. I ran for this office to bring change, unite us, and increase activism. Regretfully I do not feel that I will be able to accomplish this with the vast differences of philosophy of the leadership team.”

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Rothenberg, who resides in New Jersey but now sublets an apartment in Sherman Oaks, CA, said another factor is the union’s requirement that the president have his or her principal residency in Los Angeles — a condition he disputes and was not willing to meet because of tax purposes.

Contacted by Deadline, Rothenberg declined further comment.

The local said that Rothenberg will step down at the end of business today. Dejan Georgevich, who currently serves as the local vice president, will assume the role of Interim National President until the Local’s National Executive Board convenes to elect a successor. The election must take place within 30 days, as dictated by the guild’s Constitution and Bylaws.

“Local 600 National Executive Officers regret the resignation of President Lewis Rothenberg, and we would like to express our appreciation for his leadership and service,” the local said in a statement. “We wish the best for him and his family. The Executive Leadership team reaffirms our commitment to working together in the best interests of our membership as we go through this transition of leadership.”

National Executive Director Rebecca Rhine stated, “I want to assure our members that all systems are in place to ensure a smooth transition. On behalf of myself and our staff, we thank President Rothenberg for his strong support of our work during his tenure. His commitment to members and the Local was long-standing and unwavering.”

Rothenberg, a digital imaging technician on Avengers: Infinity War, The Girl on the Train and the 2016 Ghostbusters remake, had previously been the guild’s national vice president for two terms under Poster and had served on the national executive board for 13 year before stepping away from union politics four years ago. His three-year term as president of the 8,600-member union began June 22.

Here is his full statement to the local’s members:

Dear Sisters, Brothers and Staff of Local 600:

It is with a very heavy heart and much sadness that I must notify you all that I will be stepping down as National President at the end of business today, Friday, February 14, 2020.

I know that this will come as a shock to a lot of you and a great disappointment for many.

I feel the need to be completely open and transparent about this, so I want to lay out the chronology of events that have led me to this very difficult decision.

In February of 2019, I made the decision to run for President fully knowing that if I won, it would mean establishing a residence in Southern California.

When I took office on June 22, 2019, in my opening remarks to the NEB, I was totally honest that I was going to take advantage of the full 120 days that the Constitution and Bylaws (C&BL) afforded me so that I could spend time with my family, as my daughter was due to give birth in mid-July. With that, from June 22nd – October 20th, I spent as much time either in Los Angeles or on the road for the Union as I did at home with my family.

Prior to the October NEB, I informed the National Officers, senior staff, Western Region Council, and then the full NEB, that I had sublet an apartment in Sherman Oaks and, effective October 20, 2019, I would be changing my production city to Los Angeles. I also notified them that I would not be changing my legal residence due to the fact that I discovered if I did, I would not be able to file a California non-resident tax return, putting at a minimum, an additional $8000.00 per year tax burden on me and my family. On top of all the other financial and personal sacrifices I was willingly, and by my own choice, making, this I could not do. At that point, no one had any issue with this.

At the end of October, I noticed that on my online membership profile, I was still listed with New York as my production city. I called member services and advised them that it needed to be changed. A few days later, I received notification from our in-house counsel that my production city could not be changed to Los Angeles with my guild residence listed as New Jersey. At that point, I said that it was ok to change my guild residence to my Sherman Oaks address. I was then notified that it was the Local’s practice to request three forms of proof of residency in order to change your guild residence.
I would like to point out that this is only a practice, not a policy or a bylaw. Article One Section 20 of our Bylaws clearly states:

“In cases where a member’s residence is in question the Local may request information to help determine where a member lives the majority of the year. At the discretion of the regional staff, these sources may include but are not limited to: driver’s license (state issued ID for individuals who do not drive), vehicle registration, auto insurance policy, state and/or federal tax returns showing only that portion indicating residence, utility bills (matching the name and address of the member), voter registration, documentation of a mortgage or rental agreement indicating a minimum commitment of twelve (12) months, homeowner’s insurance policy.”

In full disclosure, in June of 2013, the NEB did instruct the staff to follow this practice, but that was in response to an issue we were having with members establishing residences in Incentive states so that they could work as a local there, as well as keep their NY or LA production city status. It was to prevent members from trying to game the system.

I do feel my situation was completely different. I have willingly given up New York, the city where I have been gainfully employed for 40 years, to move to Los Angeles to honor my commitment and adhere to the C&BL. I have at my own expense shipped my car and my equipment package out here. I have turned down over 40 days of work in NY since October 20th, explaining to producers and crew members that I could not work as a local there any longer. In doing this, I asked our senior staff for an exception to the practice of providing three proofs of residence. I said that I could provide two proofs of residency, a sublet agreement and an internet service bill, but I could not provide a state issued document. I was advised that the senior staff was not comfortable granting me that exception and asked to send it to the National Officers. The National Officers were not able to come to a consensus agreement about whether the Local should accept the two documents that I am able to provide as sufficient. They decided it should be referred to our C&BL committee at our January NEB meeting.

At the NEB, I was asked to relinquish the chair of the C&BL committee while this was discussed. The committee recommended adopting a motion codifying that the President’s residence, as referred to in Article 3 Section 3, be his/her guild residence. This was exactly the opposite of what I was requesting. It came to the floor of the NEB and after a very lengthy Executive session, which after making an opening statement, I willingly excused myself so that the board could speak freely, the board voted to adopt that motion.

This of course has put me in a very difficult situation of trying to decide if I can remain President of Local 600. As a volunteer, the additional tax burden, on top of all the other financial and personal sacrifices this residency requirement has put on me and my family, is not something I can bear.

In addition, this ordeal has brought a number of other issues to the forefront for me. I realize that my vision for this Union, as to who runs it and how it should be run, is not fully aligned with some of our senior staff and National Officers. While I truly believe everyone in the leadership of this Local has the members in mind, there are major ideological differences between some of us.

I ran for this office to bring change, unite us, and increase activism. Regretfully I do not feel that I will be able to accomplish this with the vast differences of philosophy of the leadership team.

With my resignation today, effective tomorrow, National Vice President Dejan Georgevich, ASC will immediately become interim President and the NEB has thirty days to elect my successor. I of course will give as much support as is asked of me to help ensure a smooth transition and I only wish the best for the leadership and members of this Local.

I have always, and will continue to, support IATSE Local 600 and the entire Labor movement. I will continue to defend our contracts on set and support all Union initiatives. I will continue my efforts in encouraging activism.

I want to thank all of you who voted for me and all of you who have shown me such support these past 8 months. I know that I am disappointing some of you, and I do recognize my failing in my obligation to you, but at the end of the day, my obligation to my family and to myself must take precedence. If anything comes of my resignation, I hope it will be taking a long, hard look at the fairness of the residency requirement for National Officers. We need to also consider whether this position, with the requirements necessary to best run this local, can continue to be a volunteer position.

Fraternally,
Lewis Rothenberg

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