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SAG’s membership demanded change Thursday, electing members of the opposition Unite for Strength slate and shifting the balance of power on the union’s national board.
The results are a defeat for SAG president Alan Rosenberg and the current leadership, which has guided the union through months of contentious bargaining and into a stalemate with the major studios and production companies. The UFS winners are expected to align with members of the New York and regional boards who sit on the national board, breaking the hold of the MembershipFirst faction.
“We offered members a clear choice in this election: end the fighting with AFTRA and instead partner with them to create a stronger union for performers,” said Ned Vaughn, a UFS leader who was elected to the Hollywood board. “The results in this unusually high turnout election leave no doubt that is what the members want. We look forward to working with all of our colleagues on the board to move SAG in this new direction.”
In a statement, Rosenberg extended an olive branch of sorts. “I congratulate those members newly elected to our board of directors,” he said, “and I look forward to working closely with each of them.
“Now it’s time to work in tandem on behalf of SAG members throughout the country, to get a fair contract we can all be proud of. A union divided benefits only the employers, and SAG members deserve nothing less than unified, focused leadership,” he said.
While the vote will not change the makeup of SAG’s negotiating committee, the new UFS board members generally are more moderate than the incumbents, and their election increases the likelihood that the stalemate will be broken.
“The membership has expressed their opinions with their votes,” said Sam Freed, New York board president and first vp of the national board. “I will work to ensure that the actions of the new board reflects those votes.”
The new board will not formally convene until Oct. 18. Vaughn said that the first order of business for the new members is to get a handle on the state of contract negotiations.
“We’re very much looking forward to hearing from Alan and Doug (Allen, SAG national executive director) and our board members, especially the negotiating committee, to find out what the state of things are and find out how best we can proceed in going forward,” he said.
A total of 23 national board seats out of 69 were up for election.
In Hollywood, 18 candidates from UFS were elected to both the Hollywood and national boards, while 14 MembershipFirst candidates were re-elected or newly elected to the boards.
The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers declined comment on the election results.
The five new national board members from UFS are Amy Brenneman, Kate Walsh, Ken Howard, Pamela Reed and Adam Arkin. Morgan Fairchild, an independent candidate who was endorsed by the slate, was re-elected. The remaining 13 elected will sit as members of the Hollywood division and alternates to the national board.
Among those in MembershipFirst elected or re-elected to the national board are Lainie Kazan, Joely Fisher, Scott Bakula, Keith Carradine and JoBeth Williams. Another nine were elected to the Hollywood division and alternates.
The group’s spokeswoman and current national and Hollywood board member Anne-Marie Johnson said of the results, “MembershipFirst is extremely grateful for those who voted and for those who voted in support of MembershipFirst.”
She added, “We’re pleased we remain the majority in the Hollywood division and are dedicated to fighting the good fight.”
There are 55 seats on the Hollywood board, of that MembershipFirst holds 37 seats, Johnson said.
And though MembershipFirst lost five of its 32 spots on the national board, Johnson said Unite for Strength’s five new national board members would have to receive 100% support from their counterparts from the regional board divison and New York division, as well as Fairchild, to have the majority.
The UFS’s Brenneman received the largest number of votes — 6,844 — among the 84 candidates vying for seats on the Hollywood and national boards, with Arkin running a close second at 6,841.
A total of 13,793 ballots returned were tabulated in the Hollywood division, representing 24.8% of the ballots mailed in that region. (A total of 55,533 ballots were mailed to Hollywood members). Another 5,458 ballots were counted in the New York division, representing 23.8% of the ballots mailed to members there.
Five New York incumbent board members also were elected, as were nine New York division/national board alternates. Erik-Anders Nilsson, the lone MembershipFirst candidate running in New York, did not win a seat.
The election turned into a contentious battle and was seen by many observers as a referendum on the SAG’s bargaining tactics after the union and the AMPTP failed to negotiate a new TV/theatrical contract by the June 30 deadline.
The AMPTP made a final offer that day, offering retroactivity for SAG if members ratified it by Aug. 15. SAG rejected the AMPTP offer, instead presenting a counterproposal, which the AMPTP refused.
Since then, there have been no formal negotiations. Allen insists that private talks with AMPTP members and other key studio execs are ongoing; the AMPTP claims that no such talks have taken place.
Steve Diamond, a Santa Clara University School of Law professor who was once in the running for the SAG national executive director position, said that ultimately the national board is the one that directs the negotiating committee. Nonetheless, there are no expectations that there will be immediate movement in the contract talks.
“Unless the national board can muster the two-thirds majority to change that committee or eliminate that committee, the MembershipFirst representatives will stay on the negotiating committee,” he said. “If Unite for Strength has in mind a changed approach to negotiating the contract, they will have some hoops to jump through to change that structurally.”
Among those not re-elected to the board but still negotiating is MembershipFirst’s David Jolliffe, who sits as chair of the committee.
Johnson said she looked forward to the new national board members receiving a confidential briefing on the negotiations that the rest of the board has received.
“I guarantee that when Unite for Strength are in the room with us and we can now discuss confidential information, they will see the light,” she said. “I’m fully confident that these actors will see firsthand what we’ve been trying to do, why we’ve been trying to do it and what we must continue to do.”
Regional board members re-elected for three-year terms are Bill Mootos from Boston, Suzanne Burkhead of Dallas/Fort Worth, Ed Kelly from Detroit, James Huston from Houston, Cece DuBois from Nashville, Art Lynch from Nevada and Stephen F. Schmidt from Washington, D.C./Baltimore.
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