David White is stepping down as SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator after 12 years at the head of Hollywood’s largest union. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief operating officer, is eyed as his successor.
White’s resignation was confirmed following a SAG-AFTRA national executive board meeting on Friday. He is expected to depart within a few weeks. The board authorized SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris to begin discussions with Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s longtime COO and general counsel, about succeeding White.
White was generally well-liked within SAG-AFTRA. Multiple sources said White made the decision to move on after a dozen years of leading the union that at times is riven with factional conflict among its 160,000 members. His contract runs through early 2023. There’s no word yet on his next move but he is said to be considering his options.
“I’ve loved every minute of it, but there are other things I want to do before my career comes to a close,” White told Variety. “The timing right now is perfect. The organization will take the accomplishments we’ve achieved and go to the next level.”
White cited the completion of the 2012 merger of SAG and AFTRA as among the significant accomplishments during his tenure, which began in 2009. The integration of SAG and AFTRA collective bargaining agreements and health plans was a major challenge for White early on. He also pointed to the re-organization of SAG-AFTRA into a management number of national and local boards and offices. That helped the union get to a stronger place from a financial perspective.
“Restructuring, reorganizing and rationalizing our operational structure is something that I’m tremendously proud of,” White said. “It was important work that is rarely seen by people outside of our union.”
White spent four years with SAG as general counsel from 2002 to 2006. He rejoined in 2009 after the disastrous 2008 master film and TV contract negotiating cycle that polarized union members under the leadership of White’s predecessor, Doug Allen. White is credited with quieting the waters and establishing stronger operating systems that led to less turnover among SAG-AFTRA executive staff. He also galvanized the organization’s legislative advocacy work.
“David has been at the center of SAG-AFTRA’s success over the past decade. His tenure has been marked by stability and tremendous accomplishment,” Carteris said. “He has been an invaluable advocate for our membership and deserves immense credit for all that he, and we have achieved during his time with us. I know that David had opportunities to leave SAG-AFTRA over this past year, and the union and I are forever grateful that he made the decision to stay and see us through the most challenging days of the pandemic. On a personal note, I have worked closely with David and have seen his brilliance and dedication up close. I will miss having him as a trusted partner.”
White noted that the pandemic conditions and other events of the past few years have only underscored the importance of the union in providing for and offering job protections to its members. White cited SAG-AFTRA’s progress in technological innovations such as direct deposit for residuals. Union executives also worked to establish new systems to tackle sexual harassment and workplace abuses in the wake of the #MeToo movement. SAG-AFTRA also was a big player in establishing the COVID-19 safety protocols that allowed film and TV production to resume last year.
“SAG-AFTRA is essential to the livelihoods of performers,” White said. “Individuals are now dealing with the largest companies in the history of humankind. Even when the decision-makers and executives on the production side are extremely good people, this industry at its base can be exploitive of talent….You cannot make a living in this industry as a performer without the basic protections provided by SAG-AFTRA contracts and the advocacy that we provide.”