March 21, 2022

An introduction to the IDA Board

By GRACE LEE, Chris Pérez, Amir Shahkhalili AND Marcia Smith

The International Documentary Association (IDA) logo.

Dear IDA Community,

We are taking this opportunity to introduce ourselves to you as the new Executive Committee of the IDA Board of Directors. In the spirit of greater transparency, we want to use this space to keep in regular contact about IDA and its future.

IDA is grappling with an existential crisis. Over the last year, we have experienced internal conflicts and multiple transitions at the staff, executive and board level, including sadly, a number of resignations. These internal changes came fast and furious, with little opportunity to digest before the next disruption. We’ve also seen how our communication shortcomings have led to factual inaccuracies and contributed to distress and confusion within our documentary community.

As volunteer board members responsible for the long-term health of the IDA, this pain is palpable. We want to do our part moving forward to be transparent, to be accountable for our mistakes and work alongside you to help our community heal. We hope these posts will contribute to a new beginning.

Documentary Workers Union

We are writing our first post about the Documentary Workers Union (DWU). This is an exciting development that provides an opportunity to move forward together with staff. Unfortunately there has been confusion about our response and we want to clarify where we stand.

On Monday, March 14, staff members sent a letter to ED Rick Pérez and Board members asking for voluntary recognition of a union. We were given 24 hours — until Tuesday March 15 — to respond and sign onto a statement that listed several demands.

To make it absolutely clear, we enthusiastically support and recognize workers’ right to unionize. Some of us on the board are union members, others have worked with unions and see them as allies locally and globally. Rick Pérez, the IDA’s ED, has even made a film about Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement — a movement that has personal resonance for him.

Despite our enthusiasm, we simply were not able to meet a 24-hour deadline. We are 14 volunteers who have full-time jobs, we are spread out across multiple time zones, with some of us on set or traveling when the request was received. We knew, though, that we had to discuss this important matter as soon as possible.

We gathered as quickly as we could and were able to recognize the union by Wednesday March 16 — within 48 hours of the staff’s request. We alerted staff members that morning alongside a statement to the media. If there have been other unions recognized as quickly as this one, we’d be surprised. Yet it was spun in the press and social media as if we had done something in opposition to the unionization effort. We embrace this change as a positive one for IDA and we look forward to taking the next steps through a process guided by mutual respect and understanding.

We’ve realized from a tweet of @IDAWorkersUnion that there is a misunderstanding about the signing of a mission statement penned by staff. When we were contacted by the Communications Workers of America, there was no mention that signing a mission statement was a prerequisite to recognizing the union.

We asked an attorney who had previously advised the board if he could help us understand this recognition process because we felt rushed by the timeline, but did not intend to engage him as counsel. It was a mistake to rush this process and we regret the confusion this has caused. To be absolutely clear, we are not engaging that firm, Seyfarth Shaw, for the collective bargaining process with the Documentary Workers Union. We are undertaking a careful process to identify the right counsel or advisers who understand our support for the union and the specifics of entering these new waters as a non-profit organization.

Once that happens, we will move forward in good faith with the IDA staff and their union reps. At the same time we will support the ED and staff as they work to maintain services for members, fulfilling the IDA’s most immediate obligations as a fiscal sponsor, grantmaker, and convener.

Rather than hashing out these matters in the press and on social media we need more avenues for direct dialogue with you, our community. We’re aware that some IDA members believe they were overlooked in a recent email blast announcing community conversation sessions. Our intent was to invite all current IDA members. We recognize that we need to expand our outreach in various ways such as posting letters like this and sharing them on our social networks.

Moving forward we will share more here about some aspirations for the IDA’s future, including news on upcoming hires, clarifying conversations with IDA members, and our objectives as a board of directors in this new era of rebuilding a more equitable IDA. We look forward to your input and dialogue.

Sincerely,

IDA Board Executive Committee
Grace Lee, Chris Pérez, Amir Shahkhalili, Marcia Smith

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