How SAG-AFTRA's President Manages the Union From Home Amid a Virus Crisis

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SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris

Gabrielle Carteris is working with the AFL-CIO, Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Kamala Harris to ensure that entertainment workers’ unique employment patterns don’t freeze them out of federal relief bills.

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris didn’t use to spend a lot of time in the house. More often, she could be found at the union’s Los Angeles headquarters, or around town with friends and family, at meetings or visiting the organization’s offices in New York or across the country.

“I’m not good functioning at home,” Carteris said Saturday in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m always out.”

But not anymore. With California — and indeed, a fifth of the U.S. population — under stay-at-home orders, the former Beverly Hills: 90210 star is cooped up like the rest of us. Yet as one of the leaders of a 165,000-member labor union, she’s responsible for helping performers, broadcasters (“They’re on the front lines,” she noted), singers and others stay healthy and financially sound in a time of global crisis and a shuttered entertainment industry.

That responsibility means endless telephone and Zoom meetings “into the wee hours of the night” and the weekends, as well. Some involve helping raise money for the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and related programs that assist union members in need amidst “incredible anxiety.” Carteris predicted the need will grow exponentially, adding, “I really worry about our members.”

Most of those members are working class or middle class, not affluent, and are economically imperiled by the industry shutdown, something that many in Washington and across the country don’t appreciate even as consumers rely on streaming services like Netflix as one of the few infection-proof diversions during an unprecedented pandemic.

And so, on the political front, Carteris is working with the AFL-CIO, Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Kamala Harris to ensure that entertainment workers’ unique employment patterns don’t freeze them out of federal relief bills. She elaborated on that in a podcast over the weekend: "We have been in direct conversations with other unions, studios, employers and legislative leaders at the state and federal level to make sure entertainment workers are included in the stimulus package for income replacement programs, programs like expanded unemployment insurance, family relief, a universal basic income during this crisis."

And, separately, Carteris is interacting with the nurses’ union in order to help the first responders any one of us might depend on should an individual’s worst fears materialize.

“We’re just running to be sure we’re not behind the eight-ball,” she said. And meanwhile, “the core functions for the members have to keep going.” Those now include a regularly updated resources page. (See also THR's resource links here.)

But to stay productive, the veteran actor is “trying to create some personal rituals”: yoga, meditation and walks with her husband. “We talk about our kids and family who aren’t with us,” explained Carteris, who has two adult daughters living far from home. She and her husband have dinner together, of course — “I love to cook,” Carteris said — but “in the beginning, we were very quiet. It was just too much. Now, we share our days. By the end of the day, we’re both very tired because you still know that the world is in crisis.”

“I’m thankful to be next to my husband,” she said. “I pray for my family and friends and I pray for the world.”

And, Carteris added, "we always have hope. That's why we survive."