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Battle Lines Drawn As SAG-AFTRA Factions Stake Positions In Upcoming Election

·18-min read

Candidates from SAG-AFTRA’s rival factions – Unite for Strength and Membership First – have staked out their positions as they vie for control of the union in its upcoming elections.

Candidates from the ruling Unite for Strength camp – led by Fran Drescher and Anthony Rapp – say in their official campaign statements that they want to build on the accomplishments the union has made in recent years, while candidates from the Membership First opposition party – led by Matthew Modine and Joely Fisher – say it’s time for a change in the union’s direction. Ballots will be mailed to members August 3 and tabulated September 2.

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Fran Drescher and Matthew Modine - Credit: Mega Agency
Fran Drescher and Matthew Modine - Credit: Mega Agency

Mega Agency

Modine, running for national president, says on the ballot: “I have been here, working our Union issues on the National and Local Boards for four years and have served on over 16 philanthropic and civic boards. {ModineLegacy.com} My goal: Protect the cornerstones of our Union; a thriving Health Plan, preserving our residuals, enforcing contracts, safeguarding our pensions and as an original Member of the LA Local-Sexual Harassment Committee, ensuring safe working conditions for all. Accomplishing this requires greater inclusion, global leadership, transparency, truthfulness and sustainable prosperity. Joely Fisher and I are prepared to fulfill these goals and respectfully ask for your vote.”

Drescher, running for national president, says on the ballot: “On The Nanny I wore many hats which prepared me to deal with studios and networks. I know the entry portal for maximum results. I founded the Cancer Schmancer Movement. I passed a bill in DC by unanimous consent. I am Public Diplomacy Envoy for Health at the US State Dept. I can reach across the aisle and get the job done! I will reunite our dysfunctional and divided union. We must reduce infrastructure expenses, go virtual to re-appropriate for member needs. Streaming must be redefined. Diversity is a priority. I will challenge the status quo.”

When Modine announced his candidacy in May for his second run at the presidency, he said: “The union spends exorbitant amounts of our own members’ money attempting to convince us that our contracts have been successfully negotiated. The truth is they fall far short of the economic conditions facing performers today. I’m running to ensure that each of the locals across the United States are truthfully and transparently represented. One of the biggest issues on the minds of our membership today is the catastrophic failure of our SAG-AFTRA Health Plan during the pandemic.”

Drescher told Deadline earlier this month that “I hope to unify our membership, to move us into the 21st century. I want us to be stronger, healthier and wealthier. It’s time to leverage our creative force for economic gain, to bring reason and fairness, along with influence and strength, to the negotiating table. I will always fight to strengthen benefits for all members.”

Rapp, her running mate who is running for national secretary-treasurer, says on the ballot that “As artists, we come together – from all walks of life – to create something bigger than ourselves. We have the same opportunity as a union, to collectively and responsibly move SAG-AFTRA into the future. Throughout my 40 years of union membership, I’ve experienced every aspect of this industry, and it would be my honor to leverage our collective power to protect our safety, improve our working conditions, and shepherd SAG-AFTRA into a new era. Our union’s funding is a result of our collective hard work, and as Secretary-Treasurer I will act with integrity to safeguard our union’s finances.”

Fisher, Modine’s running mate for national secretary-treasurer, says on the ballot that “The current state of our Union is unacceptable; The Health Care disaster, the perverse approach to residuals, the failure to prevent absurd exclusivity provisions, paltry Sexual Harassment protections and so much more, it’s clear that we need a new direction. I am determined to tackle these big problems and to work with Matthew Modine to lead our organization with truth and transparency. I’ve served on the National Board and on countless Committees. My mother, Connie Stevens served as your Secretary-Treasurer. I want to honor her and serve all of you. I ask for your vote.”

Fisher, who is also running for a seat on the national board, says in her candidate’s statement that “In 2020, our current administration touted an historic contract. I was outraged. We all know that we can and should do better. I knew I had to get back into the boardroom. I ask for your vote for seats on both the National and Local Boards. I will dedicate my energy and passion to the real work of Committees and Administration which the issues require; strong and strategic negotiations, better protection on sets, world-class Health Care, support regarding self-taping, protecting our pensions, contract enforcement and more. 38 years in our Union, I am ready.”

In other races, Jodi Long and Yvette Nicole Brown are squaring off in the race for president of the union’s Los Angeles Local.

Long, like many others running on the Membership First ticket, took issue with the recent changes in eligibility for the SAG-AFTRA health plan, saying on the ballot that “Throwing many of our senior performers off our SAG-AFTRA health plan was unconscionable, especially during a pandemic! We need strong, innovative leaders to lead the charge negotiating our contracts, ensuring the financial health of our Members and our Health and Pension Plans. As LA Local’s EEOC’s Chair, we initiated an event bringing the first Unconscious Bias panel to the Producers Guild. Five years later UB training is the industry standard. Vote for your LA Local leadership team: Jodi Long for President, the encyclopedic David Jolliffe and kick-ass Sheryl Lee Ralph as your Vice-Presidents.”

Brown, running on the Unite for Strength slate, says on the ballot that “Two years ago, I ran for the National Board because I wanted to give back to the union that protected and supported me for 25 years. Union service has been one of my greatest joys, and I remain committed to ensuring that every member has what they need to do their job safely and joyously. To that end, I am running for President of the Los Angeles Local. Trust me to lead our Los Angeles Local: I promise to be a respectful, efficient, kind, and productive force as we work together to build a greater future for this union we all love.”

Five candidates are vying for two L.A. Local vice presidencies: Unite for Strength’s Jeff Garlin and Katie Von Till; Membership First’s Sheryl Lee Ralph and David Jolliffe; and independent candidate Peter Kwong.

Garlin, who’s also running for a seat on the national and local boards, had the shortest campaign statement: “A vote for me is a vote for Jeff Garlin.”

Von Till’s statement says that “The LA Board has been chaotic and contentious, yet I have managed to get along with nearly everyone. LA saw how I run rooms when I co-chaired the Commercial W&Ws (with someone from another party!). Recently a member wrote, ‘I so appreciate the energy, intelligence, commitment and maybe most of all the perky good will you bring to our meetings.’ As VP, I would do my best to make sure all voices are heard, debate is productive, and agenda items are discussed in the allotted time. Time is money. Let’s stop wasting it.”

Ralph’s official statement says: “I love being a screen actor. As glamorous as it looks, when you pull back the curtain there are decisions being made concerning performers that need serious attention. As a 40-year SAG-AFTRA member, it is my honor to step up to serve our Union membership. Helping people can be a difficult task, especially when people don’t realize specifically what help they need. From Weak Contracts to safety on set, a Healthcare Plan in crisis and worry over our Pension Plans, we must be vigilant! I’m here to help and I ask for your vote.”

Jolliffe, an incumbent, says in his campaign statement that “Throughout my 2 terms as your 2nd Vice-President, I’ve tried to lead with strength, honesty and compassion. We in Los Angeles have held the line against a National Board that is reckless, weak and incapable of working in the best interests of the membership. We were betrayed by our own Union regarding the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan. We must start negotiating from a position of strength and stop giving away hard-fought for – and won – benefits. It’s time for all of us to come together and reestablish a union that will protect all of us.”

Kwong, the independent candidate, says that “SAG-AFTRA is in big trouble! We have been lied to! SAG Pension and Health are in jeopardy! Stunts and background are ignored! I’ll address issues of @BlackLivesMater, @StopAsianHate, @LGBTQ+, @MeToo and will fight for our background, stunts, seniors, women, dancers, children; having served and supported these committees. As Asian, I share the pain of our collective causes. I have the experience, knowledge, dedication to change SAG-AFTRA. Television Academy Governor, SAG National Board, AFTRA National Board, Motion Picture Academy. Vote for an independent spirit and mind. You know who will fight for you. Have courage to vote the person; not the SLATE! #INDEPENDENT.”

Carteris - Credit: Mega
Carteris - Credit: Mega

Mega

Here are the official statements from Unite for Strength’s candidates running for seats on the national board from Los Angeles, including outgoing union president Gabrielle Carteris.

Carteris: “Being President of SAG-AFTRA for the past 5 1/2 years has been an honor and a privilege. I’m stepping down as it’s time to pass the baton and asking for your vote as a Los Angeles National Board member. We’ve made significant progress: reimagining our Commericials contract, securing better streaming residuals, fighting sexual harassment and keeping our members safe, developing Intimacy Coordinator accreditation to provide protection during intimate work. With the Pandemic, we fought to include members in the stimulus package and for additional unemployment compensation, then led the way to reopening the industry. My commitment has not wavered.”

Camryn Manheim: “Having served as Secretary-Treasurer the past 2 years, it’s clear to me what issues the members are most concerned about. It’s my mission to transform the way SAG-AFTRA engages and communicates with the members, instilling pride and ownership in our union. Working in unity we can tackle the most important issues of our time. Earning fair wages, reversing unfair options and exclusivity, protections from sexual harassment, diversity, equity and inclusion. I want to leave this union strong for generations to come.”

Jason George: “For better or worse, technology is changing our industry every day. Diversity is now a requirement of the business model. As chair of the Diversity Advisory Committee, I’ll continue to fight for better, more authentic representation and equal treatment on both sides of the camera, in all categories of work, for all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, ages and (dis)abilities. Streaming has destabilized the economics of the business. Logic, experience, strategy and data must guide us in future negotiations, not emotional arguments, outdated paradigms, or wistfully hoping to resurrect the ‘good ol’ days.’ Our diversity and unity is our strength.”

Shari Belafonte: “I have literally been in this ‘bizniss’ all of my life. As a Scion, the daughter of a passionate celebrity activist, I became aware of the strength of unionizing, watching my father fight for what’s right in both social justice and artistic arenas. Ageism, sexism, racism, and wage disparity have no place in a strong workforce. I applaud how far we’ve come, but am staunchly aware of how far we still have to go for fairness in our worth, comparable opportunities, and being hired to tell OUR stories, in front of and behind the camera. Diversity, not Division.”

Dulé Hill: “As a 30+ year member, I was honored to be serving on the board when we merged into one unified union. I appreciate the value of unity and the collective pursuit of the overall wellbeing of every union member. Nearly a decade later, artists face new challenges as the landscape of our industry continues to evolve. Though we’ve made great strides, the journey continues and there’s more work to be done. I will listen, learn and pursue all options that work for the betterment of our members. There is strength in numbers. We’re in this together.”

Jenny O’Hara: “SAG-AFTRA must continue moving forward. Under the leadership of Unite for Strength and its allies we achieved over $1 Billion in contract gains, $318 Million in 2020 alone, garnered huge increases in streaming residuals, secured protections for new and emerging platforms, and created new member driven contracts. We helped create the Return to Work Safety Protocols, Sexual Harassment and Nudity Protections in auditions and on set, and a 24-hour Safety Hotline. No lies, no attacks. Just progress. Boards: National/Local. Committees: LA/National Executive, LA/National Honors & Tributes Chair, Disciplinary Review Chair, TV/Theatrical Standing, Communications. For the facts.”

Lee Purcell: “My passion is to help ALL members, but my focus is to end ageism and gender bias toward senior and women members to increase employment opportunities and respect for those underserved “minorities.” As a Los Angeles Local Board member and Chair of the LA Seasoned Performers Committee, I immediately collaborated with insurance professionals (and continue to do so) to tirelessly guide countless seniors to new health insurance after theirs was unceremoniously cancelled. I campaign against ageism, including Stop the Hate. Committees include: National Seniors; LA Women’s; SAG-AFTRA Radio Plays. Twice Primetime Emmy nominee, member of the Motion Picture Academy and Television Academy.”

Michelle Hurd: “I have been a proud union actor since 1994, working many contracts: soap operas, commercials, VO and on-camera, background, stand-in, day players, guest stars, recurring arcs and principal series regulars. Every contract deserves a strong voice fighting for rights and security in this changing market. I’ve been honored to serve as a POC National Board member. As Actor and Activist I cannot stay silent when I witness inequality and injustices. I understand the intricacies of negotiations and the diligence required to protect our rights in this shifting playing field. I want to continue to be that voice.”

Sara Rue: “I have been a proud, grateful union member for over thirty years, working steadily in film and television since I was 9 years old. I’m running for both Local and National Boards to listen, learn, and vote my conscience in hopes of creating more equitable and safe working environments for performers. The landscape of our business is ever changing. As more unique opportunities for actors emerge, I believe we need board members who have experience in all capacities and who can provide realistic perspectives on the potential challenges and pitfalls that could lie ahead.”

Clark Gregg: “I was honored to have served in the past on both the Local and National Boards. Now it’s time to re-join the fight to protect and serve our members as another seismic and pivotal evolution is taking place in what we do. Please help me achieve that goal by supporting me and my fellow candidates from Unite for Strength.”

Here are the official statements from Membership First candidates running for seats on the national board from Los Angeles:

Sharon Stone: “I always tell the truth when it’s time to hear the truth. The protections we have achieved don’t go nearly far enough. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy 40 years working in our industry, but I’ve also been the victim of sexual harassment and discrimination. I also suffered an extreme health emergency and know how critical it is to have our promised healthcare when that unforeseen moment comes. It was an honor to be presented with a Nobel Peace Summit Award for work with the HIV/AIDS crisis. Compassion and hard work are my commitment to you.”

Stephanie Powers: “Joined SAG in 1961, now SAG-AFTRA. Performed as an actor in films, television, live TV, documentaries, and broadcast as a union professional. At all times I have worked only in productions that were union signatories. I have not always agreed with positions taken by our union in past negotiations, but I have always thought that our union acted in the best interests of its membership. However, recently, especially in 2020, I have become disappointed/concerned with the actions of what has become an unrecognizable Union to the one I joined years ago. We need change.”

Esai Morales: “I am asking for your vote. SAG-AFTRA has surrendered so many of the hard-fought gains made by our predecessors that it’s becoming difficult to keep track. Your turn-a-round when you work on TV shows outside of LA – Gone. Travel days – no longer a work day with a benefit plan contribution. Background Actors – not covered by union protections where production is growing. Worst of all, the new merged Health Plan could not honor the commitment made to seniors. What’s next? Enough is Enough.”

Anne-Marie Johnson: “SAG Ralph Morgan Award Honoree. Four terms as SAG’s 1st VP. Seventeen years as a SAG Board member and 4 years on the AFTRA board. Chaired SAG’s EEOC Committee. Served on over 7 contract negotiating teams. I’m running because the members have been poorly served by SAG-AFTRA., especially the appalling changes in our pension and health plans. Changes which disproportionately negatively impact older actors, women of all ages, performers with disabilities and performers of color. A greedy, thoughtless action taken by ‘our’ elected and our former national executive director.”

Sean Astin: “The current National leadership has created an illusion of stability. The era of self-congratulations must end. We should never accept the notion that we are lucky to get what we get, while giving away hard-won benefits. Our contracts are negotiated with too much deference to our employers and not enough from the position of strength we performers actually hold. With 40 years of membership under my belt, it’s time to serve. Remembering my mother, Patty Duke’s legacy as president of our union & with deep appreciation for her service, I respectfully ask for your vote.”

Jane Austin: “It has been an honor to serve on almost 40 committees nationally and locally for the last 19 years. My experience has given me the insight to understand the needs of our membership, which is to make sure we negotiate the strongest contracts we can. We also need to do a better job enforcing those contracts and to provide the safest sets for our members to work on. I look forward to continuing my service in creating a strong union that you can rely on. With your help I know we can accomplish this.”

Shaan Sharma: “In 2019 our Local voted for change and the ruling regime has done everything in their power to punish us for it, including needlessly shutting our Locals down since March 2020. Despite that, we used the forced downtime to educate, support, and empower our members through online Town Halls, and a new union literacy guide and website (solidarity.us). With your continued support, emerging from the pandemic, we are in a position to rebuild our union into one that truly serves all members, not “leaders” serving themselves. Visit ShaanSharma.com for my report and Vote MODINE•FISHER MembershipFirst.com.”

Brad Garrett: “Like many of us, I’m not happy with the direction our Union is headed. The final straw for me was the collapsing of our Health Plan. Nearly 12,000 of our fellow sisters and brothers lost their SAG-AFTRA Health Insurance. We must do better in our contract negotiations. Renting our Los Angeles Offices at $6 million per year is crazy. I DO want to thank our current Los Angeles Board for standing up for us. It’s the National Board that needs attention. That’s why I’m stepping up to serve on the National Board.”

Michael Rapaport: “I’m a proud SAG-AFTRA member. Being informed and educated about some concerns from my fellow members I strongly believe that all SAG-AFTRA members need to be more involved. SAG-AFTRA is OUR UNION! We need to protect it and ourselves. The recent loss of SAG-AFTRA Health Care for 8,000+ senior performers, is Unacceptable. Contracts where we give up protections, like portal to portal that cuts our turn-a-round time – Unacceptable. Low rates for background performers – Unacceptable. I’m ready to do right by OUR UNION.”

Debbie Evans: “Proud working member for 40+ years with 400+ credits. This has allowed me to have an extensive overview of our industry and what is needed for a sustainable career. As your Los Angeles SAG-AFTRA National Board Member, my guiding principle is to make sure we have the opportunity to earn a decent living with quality Healthcare and Pension. I have learned in these times Strong Voices are imperative. I will continue to take a Stand for You! It would be an honor to represent you.”

See all the L.A. Local candidates and their campaign statements here.

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