DAVE DENSMORE SPEAKS (COMMENTARY): - THE AIRING OF OUR DIRTY LAUNDRY DIDN'T HAVE TO HAPPEN
I am not a big fan of labor unions, ironic insomuch as John Force, the man with whom I traveled so many backroads and interstates over the last 30 years, is a card-carrying member of the Teamsters and, had he not become the 16-time NHRA Funny Car Champion of the World, likely would have wound up running for office at local 388 in Fullerton.
However, I do understand the concept. I get that if employers could be trusted to do right by their employees, there would be no need for unions.
Allegations by TV crew members responsible for producing the “live television coverage” of NHRA drag racing events on Fox and Fox Sports 1 suggest one of those “no other alternative” situations in which unions tend to thrive.
Trouble has been brewing from the moment the NHRA hired ham-fisted chief content officer Ken Adelson, he of the “my way or the highway” mentality.
With sincere apologies, many people, myself included, have been hesitant to address the issues between Adelson and, well, almost everyone else, out of fear that it would create a distraction that would diminish the otherwise positive impact of the Fox TV coverage not just on the NHRA but on drag racing as a whole.
However, the proverbial cat now is out of the bag thanks to Ken Draper who, on Friday, Oct. 28, identified the problems the rest of us have been shamefully ignoring in a post on Deadspin.com.
In it, he disclosed that the disgruntled TV crew members, some of them 20-year veterans of drag racing coverage, cited safety and health issues in a letter to the NHRA Board of Directors in which they also faulted Adelson specifically for the cost overruns that have plagued production from the outset. They even asked for his head, figuratively speaking.
While Adelson’s antics might not play well in Peoria, they’ve been a big hit in New York City, home to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its territories and Canada, better known as IATSE.
The “stagehands’ union,” as it was identified by NHRA Vice-President of Human Resources Marleen Gurrola, will conduct its first meetings with the National Labor Relations Board and the NHRA this week with a vote on unionization due sometime in November.
One of the complaints to the NLRB was that the NHRA recently terminated five members of the Fox broadcast crew ostensibly in retaliation for their union activities.
Nevertheless, the bigger issue for me is that TV production overruns that reportedly exceeded six figures led directly to the “layoff” of some of the NHRA’s most effective and appreciated “foot soldiers.”
Although I didn’t know all those who were shown the door, I knew Jamie Stephens, who widely was touted for her skill in the difficult area of credentialing, and Brad Littlefield, the go-to guy at National DRAGSTER whenever you needed anything historic or technical – which was all the freaking time.
Those people had nothing to do with running up the costs or complaining about who did. Their crime was doing their job and thinking that their employer would “do the right thing” instead of making them collateral damage in what likely is going to become an all-out war.
The saddest part is that Stephens and Littlefield as well the other production people apparently were let go based solely on seniority, not competence. If competence had been a criteria, I’m thinking the savings could totally have offset the cost of the overruns. Make your own conclusions.
A good start, of course, would have been to axe Adelson. And then maybe those people with whom he surrounded himself. At this point, it’s not going to do any good to fire the offensive coordinator or the defensive line coach. This needs to be a “clean house” directive.
A fish rots from the head, which is basically what the letter to the Board expressed, although I’m sure a bit more eloquently.
According to Draper, the letter further stated that Adelson’s three key hires “don’t understand drag racing or how to produce it.” That, in itself, is a sobering accusation. The also says, according to Deadspin.com, that “because of their incompetence, they have lost the respect of everyone working for them.”
Of course, the NHRA is trying to put on a happy face with the release of the standard say-nothing response favored by barristers.
“NHRA believes a direct relationship between employees is in their best interest as well as that of the sport,” states the organization’s official response to the Deadspin piece. “We continue to communicate with employees about third-party representation and their rights under the law.”
This is the kind of statement for which the NHRA apparently needs a Vice President and General Counsel.
In point of fact, the time for the NHRA to have had a direct relationship with employees has passed. That ship has sailed, embarked, gone away. If at any time there had been an actual line of communication between Adelson and the crew we would not now be airing our dirty laundry on the internet.
Television is a wonderful thing. It impacts our lives every day. Unfortunately, the great promise of television also comes with great responsibility, not just to viewers, not just to advertisers, not just to those in front of the camera but to those behind it as well.
A little more conversation and a little less condescension would be a nice start.