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SAG-AFTRA’s David White on Trump’s resignation from the union: 'The members were just fine with his decision’

Donald Trump has resigned from SAG-AFTRA as the union was considering disciplinary action. SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, facing a resolution to boot him from the Screen Actors Guild of America, former President Donald Trump took action into his own hands by sending a pointed resignation letter to SAG-AFTRA yesterday. In that letter, President Trump talked up his prior work on the big and small screens and attacked the entertainment guild for what he called its dismal record writing, quote, "I write to you today regarding the so-called disciplinary committee hearing aimed at revoking my union membership. Who cares? While I'm not familiar with your work, I'm very proud of my work on movies such as 'Home Alone 2,' 'Zoolander,' and 'Wall Street, Money Never Sleeps' and television shows, including 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,' 'Saturday Night Live,' and of course, one of the most successful shows in television history, his words, 'The Apprentice," to name just a few!"

In response, shortly thereafter, SAG-AFTRA put out a statement in response that was just two words, thank you.

Here for more on that is SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White along with Yahoo Finance's entertainment reporter Allie Canal. And David, thanks for coming on here. It's a bit of a unique, you can't fire me, I quit, situation coming from President Trump. But care to elaborate on your two-word statement?

DAVID WHITE: Our two word statement was all we really had to say. We're always appreciative to hear from members. It is true that he was about to go through a disciplinary process. There would have been all kinds of due process. And we actually expected him to show up for it. I had representatives. But if he prefers to resign, that's fine.

Given the actions that he has taken and his words and the impact that it's had on our membership and the integrity of the union and free speech and the rights of an independent media, I think the members were just fine with his decision to no longer be a part of this family.

ALLIE CANAL: And David, we know that the disciplinary hearing was in response to Trump's role in the capital riots on January 6. But he is a very controversial figure, especially in Hollywood. So I'm curious if you guys had pressure from other members of the union prior to January 6 to revoke that membership.

DAVID WHITE: We did. And it had nothing to do with his politics. We actually are officially nonpartisan. And we have produced presidents of the union-- in fact, we're the only union, I believe, that has ever produced a president of the United States, Ronald Reagan. And Charlton Heston has been a president of our union. So our politics, formal politics go both ways.

But we've had a number of members call with lots of concern about Mr Trump's actions as a candidate when he was calling the media the false media, the fake news, when he was calling upon people to take action against journalists. And we know for a fact that, prior to his election as a president then as president and after being president, that his words incited actual violence, actual harm against other members of this union along with many others. And so we've had plenty of calls from our members saying that they don't believe that he reflects the integrity and the values of the membership.

ALLIE CANAL: And what does it really mean? Break down what it means for him not to be a part of SAG-AFTRA anymore. Does that mean he can't appear in movies or TV shows going forward? What is the cost of him stepping away from this?

DAVID WHITE: You know, this industry is one that respects labor relations and respects the collective activities of unions quite a bit. So most producers do look to see whether or not the person's a member of the union in their hiring decisions. Legally, he'll still be entitled to be in movies if a producer were to decide to go that right. But he will not enjoy the benefits and the privileges of being a member of SAG-AFTRA.

So he would not be able to vote or to have any input into the contracts that actually shape the employment environment for him and others who are on shows. He would not be able to vote on the governance structure of SAG-AFTRA. He would not be able to receive a lot of the other benefits that people receive, whether it's screeners for movies during award shows or all of the other benefits that people enjoy, that our members enjoy.

ALLIE CANAL: Got it. And I want to pivot now to the coronavirus impact on the industry. Recently, we had "Fantastic Beasts Three" suspend filming over a team member testing positive, an actor from "Stranger Things Live" suing Netflix over unsafe working conditions. So how are you guys adapting your COVID policies to both protect your union members but also to ensure that they have work?

DAVID WHITE: Yes, it's such a big issue. And safety is paramount for our union, for our membership, and for most of the people in this industry. And that's always balanced with a desire to get back to work. People have to make a living.

So right from the start of the pandemic, we have been working together, the guilds and the unions in the industry who represent the directors, who represent the teamsters, the drivers, the crew, our own members. And we've been working in truly incredible collaboration with the studios and with independent producers to fashion safety protocols.

And the record for those who are on production sets under our joint protocols, that's been a very good record. There have been positive testing. But we actually have zones where people have to wear PPE. There's one zone like for our members who cannot wear PPE in order to do their job. It's kind of hard to have a dialogue and to have a romance scene or other scenes with a mask on, et cetera, and to make that credible.

But we have a lot of testing that happens there. There are a lot of other protocols. We have safety folks on set who are specifically there to make sure that people are conducting themselves in a way that is safe. And that has been successful.

So the industry's been very responsive. When we've had a big uptick in the infection rate here in Los Angeles, most production shut down. That was voluntary. There's no governmental entity or anyone else that forced that to happen. It's been the industry that has been very focused on safety.

So as a general matter, we've been satisfied with the way that producers and studios have responded to the pandemic and responded to this situation. And there are instances where there are problems. And when there are, we go after them aggressively. And sometimes individual employees, our members, we'll go after them through litigation.

But for the most part, this industry has actually had a very good track record of keeping the work environment safe. And we've been satisfied with that collaboration that has happened between those of us who represent the employees and the studios.

AKIKO FUJITA: David, we've had a number of executives who have actively lobbied for access to the vaccine, whether that's a company like Uber or grocery store chains that have said that our workers are in fact essential. So they should be allowed to get the vaccination. Where does SAG-AFTRA stand on that? Is there a conversation that's happening on that front?

DAVID WHITE: We definitely have conversations about it. Look, our feeling about vaccinations is we've got to get it to the highest-risk populations. We've got to get it to the front line workers who are health care workers, who are those who are in school, the people who need to get that vaccination in order for our society to run. We stand with every other citizen, every other thoughtful citizen in this country in wanting to make sure that those people are getting access to vaccines first.

Our members are working. And so we're in queue. We want to be in line to make sure that when the time is appropriate that our members are also receiving a vaccine. But there is no desire on our part to jump in front of the most vulnerable populations in the country or front line health workers and others who are essential for the economy itself to get going.

AKIKO FUJITA: David White, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Yahoo Finance's Allie Canal, thanks so much for joining us today.