SAG-AFTRA Presidential Election Challenge Dismissed by Dept. of Labor

Gabrielle Carteris - Getty - H 2019
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Turner

“Cease all negative attacks,” implored union president Gabrielle Carteris, but a lawyer aligned with Matthew Modine, who lost to Carteris, asserted, “This is by no means over.”

The U.S. Department of Labor on Tuesday dismissed challenges that were filed to Gabrielle Carteris’ election last August as SAG-AFTRA president, multiple sources stated, capping a bitterly fought campaign. At least some of the challenges focused on the fact that Carteris, who ran on the Unite for Strength slate, played a fictionalized version of herself on the now-canceled BH90210. Complainants contended that the role constituted an impermissible employer contribution by Fox to Carteris’ campaign, but the Labor Department apparently found no merit in that theory.

“We are grateful for the thorough review conducted by the Department of Labor regarding the unfounded challenges to our election process,” the union said in a statement. “In its decision to deny the request for a rerun of the election, the Labor Department has affirmed the integrity of our elections process and confirmed that the challenges were meritless. With all challenges now completed and dismissed, the election of Gabrielle Carteris is final. We are pleased that our thoughtful and carefully structured and administered elections process has been affirmed.”

Separately, Carteris’ strongest challenger, MembershipFirst’s Matthew Modine, himself received corporate support that experts said violated the federal prohibition on employer contributions. No complaints were filed in that regard. Carteris was re-elected with a plurality of 44.05 percent, while Modine garnered 34.76 percent in an election that was seen as the most hotly contested since the 2008 SAG elections, which saw UFS wrest control from MF and subsequently lead the union through its 2012 merger with AFTRA. UFS continues to control SAG-AFTRA despite MF’s strength in Los Angeles.

“Today, SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris was notified that the Department of Labor investigation determined that there are no grounds to rerun the election for the union’s presidency,” said UFS and its allied group USAN in a statement. “This complete vindication for Carteris is a resounding conclusion to her successful re-election campaign. In denying this request for an election rerun, the Labor Department has affirmed that the election was fairly conducted with integrity and in a democratic fashion.”

Said Carteris, “I am grateful for the Labor Department’s comprehensive review and findings which confirm that our union’s elections are conducted fairly and administered without bias or preference. It is my profound hope that this result puts an end to what has been an extraordinarily divisive and aggressive period. Certain political representatives from the opposition have worked to tear our union down with death threats, inaccurate media stories, online bullying, character assassinations, and other divisive attacks. These aggressions ultimately culminated in their attempt to derail the results of our electoral process and overturn the votes of our membership. With so many challenges before us, it is imperative that we all focus on the important work that must be done to protect our members. I invite the remnants of the opposition campaign to cease all negative attacks and work with the duly elected leadership to truly serve the membership.”

But an attorney aligned with Modine signaled continuing opposition.

“This is a sad day for all workers,” said Glaser Weil’s Robert E. Allen in a statement provided by Modine’s former campaign manager, Adam Nelson. “The purpose of the LMRDA [a provision of federal labor law] is to ensure that unions properly represent its members. To that end, Section 401 (29 U.S.C. § 481) is meant to guarantee fair elections, free of corruptive influences by outside parties as well as incumbent officers. In our complaint, we provided irrefutable proof of numerous instances of how Gabrielle Carteris, her party Unite for Strength, and certain union staff, engaged in a concerted effort to unduly influence and affect the recent SAG-AFTRA Election. These nefarious actions violate the union’s own constitution, as well as these labor laws, and deprive every member of the union a fair and equal voice in determining the union's leadership and future direction.”

He added, “We shall carefully review the reasoning for the Labor Department's refusal to move forward, and intend to challenge the department's decision to the fullest extent possible under the law. This is by no means over.”