SAG President Ken Howard Re-elected; Wants to Kick Off Merger Vote in January

7:00 PM PST 09/22/2011 by Jonathan Handel
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Ken Howard

"Today’s results reinforce that ... performers want to be represented by a single union, and they voted for the leaders who will make it happen," he tells THR.

Newly re-elected SAG president Ken Howard plans to use the guild's glitzy awards ceremony scheduled for Jan. 29 as a springboard to merge with AFTRA, he told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive interview Thursday.

The revelation came as results in this year’s elections were being announced. As expected, Howard easily won a second term in the face of opposition from three little-known challengers. Pro-merger candidates swept the elections in Hollywood, New York and the Regional Branch Division.

Howard called the results “an overwhelming endorsement of merger.”

Assuming (as is expected) that both unions’ boards support a merger plan to be presented to them during their January meetings, Howard said that he’ll announce at the SAG Awards that ballots will be going out to the two unions’ memberships. He anticipates that the return date would be the end of March or early April.

If the members of each union vote for merger by 60% or more – and Howard expressed complete confidence that they would – the process would move forward, with Howard indicating that the unions would initially operate side by side, then move together to the point that by convention/election season in July 2013, a single set of leaders would be selected.

That timing would give the new leaders a few months to get settled in before beginning early negotiations for the 2014 TV/theatrical contract with the studios.

The reference to convention reflects the fact that AFTRA holds a biennial convention in alternate (odd) years, and implicitly acknowledges that the merged union’s election process will probably reflect elements of both unions’ practices. (SAG uses a direct ballot, rather than a convention system, in electing officers and board members.)

Reflecting on the results, Howard told THR, “When I first ran for president two years ago, some experienced people advised me not to focus quite so heavily on merger, but it was clear to me that members needed it to be addressed as soon as possible. Today’s results reinforce that in a big way – performers want to be represented by a single union, and they voted for the leaders who will make it happen.”

The other national officer elected Thursday was incumbent secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino, who ran unopposed. Howard, Aquino and SAG 1st VP Ned Vaughn are the leaders of the pro-merger Unite for Strength faction, which has won growing majorities in the last four annual elections (2008 through 2011).

Ballots for the national officers election were mailed to 100,994 paid-up SAG members on Aug. 23, and 23,459 were tabulated Thursday, for a return of about 23%, a fairly average figure for the guild. Howard received 17,492 votes out of 23,314 cast for president, or 75%. Aquino received 20,399 votes, or 87% when measured against the number of ballots returned.

Given that Howard, Aquino and the entire UFS slate have run on a pro-merger platform, those figures suggest that skepticism or opposition to merger may hover in the 15% to 25% range.

UFS won all but one of the 11 national board seats from the Hollywood division. The winners (in order listed by the guild) were Tony Shalhoub, Ken Howard, Adam Arkin, Amy Aquino, Stephen Collins, D.W. Moffett, Scott Bakula, Ned Vaughn, Mimi Cozzens, Arye Gross, and L. Scott Caldwell (three-year terms) and Kate Flannery (one-year term), with Bakula the one independent to garner a seat.

On the East coast, Mike Hodge was re-elected president of the guild’s New York division by about 58% to 42%. He’s a leader of the pro-merger United Screen Actors Nationwide, which has long held a majority on the division's board of directors. Hodge defeated Sam Robards, a former USAN member who broke away from the group to join a new political faction, One.Strong.Union.

The New York candidates winning national board seats were Rebecca Damon, Lewis Black, Robards, Ezra Knight and Jay Potter. All but Robards are members of USAN.

Both factions describe themselves as favoring merger, but some New York members were concerned, rightly or wrongly, that OSU’s support for the concept might not have been as strong as USAN’s.

In Nevada, Art Lynch won a contested national board seat. Six other national board seats from the Regional Branch Division were uncontested, and the winners were previously announced: Boston – Bill Mootos; Dallas – Suzanne Burkhead; Detroit – Ed Kelly; Houston – Robert Nelson; Nashville – Cece DuBois; Washington, D.C./Baltimore – Stephen F. Schmidt. All of those are three-year positions, and all of the regional winners are believed to favor merger.

A total of 10,621 ballots were tabulated in the Hollywood Division (representing about 19% percent of ballots mailed in that division) and 5,739 ballots were tabulated in the New York Division (about 25% of ballots mailed). The higher New York figure reflects the USAN/OSU contest, as compared with the lack of competing slates in Los Angeles.

The number of ballots returned in the Regional Branch elections varied by region.

On the divisional level, Unite for Strength captured 20 of the 22 Hollywood-based national alternate seats (which also constitute seats on the divisional board). The winners of those one-year positions were Valerie Harper, Ellen Crawford, Esai Morales, Stacey Travis, John Carroll Lynch, Lisa Vidal, Christine Lakin, Michael O’Neill, Mandy Steckelberg, Tara Radcliffe, Michelle Allsopp, Bob Bergen, Assaf Cohen, Jon Huertas, Sarayu Rao, Allen Lulu, Woody Schultz, Donal Logue, Patrick Fabian, Iqbal Theba, Bertila Damas and Parvesh Cheena. Harper and Morales are the two non-UFS winners.

In New York, USAN candidates won 7 of the 9 seats that were up. The following were elected: Traci Godfrey, Mark Blum, Marc Baron, John Rothman, Kevin Scullin, Dave Bachman, Matt Servitto, Phoebe Jonas and Manny Alfaro. The OSU winners in that group are Servitto and Jonas.

 

Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel

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