Haskell Wexler has won two Academy Awards and was judged by his peers as one of the 10 most influential cinematographers in movie history.
But the 89-year-old director of photography best known for his work on the 1966 film "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and the 1966 movie "Bound for Glory," was nonetheless disqualified from running for a seat on his own union's national board last year because the guild determined that he had not spent enough time "working at the trade."
Now, the U.S. Department of Labor has determined that the International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600) improperly disqualified Wexler and another candidate, Chuck Ozeas, from running for board seats in a 2010 election. The union and its parent, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, concluded that the men were not eligible to run because they did meet the terms of a rule the IATSE adopted in 2009, stipulating that a member must work 120 days under union contracts within the previous three years in order to run for local office.
But the Labor Department determined that though the rule itself was reasonable -- other unions have minimum work requirements -- it was unfairly applied in the case of the two candidates because they weren't given enough notice to comply with it, according to a letter the president of the cinematographers guild recently sent to board members. Wexler says he has worked continuously on multiple documentaries in the last several years, but most aren't covered under IATSE contracts.
The board of the cinematographers guild voted Saturday morning to accept the Labor Department's request to rerun an election held in May, allowing Wexler and Ozeas to run as candidates. The election rerun, in which two dozen cinematographers from the Western region will compete for a dozens seats on the national board, will cost the guild about $25,000, according to a motion of the vote obtained by The Times. The motion also said that Wexler had rejected an offer that he be appointed to one of two open alternate seats on the national board. Wexler, a previous board member and officer of the union, said the offer was "insulting."
A longtime critic of the IATSE and opponent of current Local 600 president Steven Poster, Wexler was among a half dozen candidates who complained to the Labor Department about their disqualification from the 2010 election. "I believe the rule as applied is unfair, illegal and discriminatory, not only to me but to many other members," Wexler wrote in an e-mail sent to members this week.
Poster declined to comment. But in his letter to board members he described the Labor Department's ruling as largely a vindication for the union because the department rejected most of the allegations levelled by the six members and upheld the guild's "working at the trade" rule.
"The DOL has indicated that it finds this IATSE Rule to be reasonable on its face," Poster wrote.
Photo: Cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Credit: haskellwexler.com