SAG-AFTRA Re-elects Gabrielle Carteris as President

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

The opposition slate prevailed in Los Angeles.

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris was re-elected with a plurality for another two-year term, the union said Thursday morning, capping a bitterly fought battle against Matthew Modine, as well as Jane Austin and two lesser known candidates.

In a blow to Carteris' Unite for Strength slate, the opposition slate, MembershipFirst, prevailed in the Los Angeles board elections. But that does not appear to be sufficient to shift control of the union's national board to MF, according to a source who tallied the results. Split governance would have potential implications for the organization's stability, staffing and policies. The matter remains unclear, however.

Carteris received 13,537 votes (44.05 percent), while Modine garnered 10,682 (34.76 percent) and Austin received 5,048 (16.43 percent). Queen Alljahye Searles garnered 1,096 and Abraham Justice received 367. National turnout was 21.17 percent, whereas in the last election, it was 20.11 percent.

"I'm very grateful to all of the dedicated SAG-AFTRA members who participated in our union's elections," said Carteris. "Their support is humbling, and I vow to fight every day on their behalf. We will keep building on our commitment to honesty, transparency and a strategic vision that protects our members, strengthens our contracts and fortifies our union. I look forward to coming together and working with all of the elected leaders from across the nation."

Camryn Manheim won her race for secretary-treasurer, besting Jodi Long and two others. Both Carteris and Manheim are members of UFS, while Modine and Long are on the MF slate, as was Austin in prior years. In New York, UFS-aligned executive vp Rebecca Damon was re-elected as local president.

But the picture on the Los Angeles board was different. MF's Patricia Richardson won as Los Angeles president, and the slate's Frances Fisher and David Jolliffe were elected as Los Angeles vice presidents. Turnout in Los Angeles was 17.42 percent, a tad higher than the 16.29 percent of 2017.

MF also dominated the Los Angeles delegation to the union's 80-member national board, winning 13 out of 16 contested seats. That could have been enough to shift control of the board to MF, but the matter is still unclear. Although all the locals have reported results, determining board control is not as simple as tallying up the winners, because the board operates through a system of weighted voting.

As of Thursday morning, Modine signaled that there may be an outside challenge to the national election results. "It appears that there has already been a challenge from outside of the political groups with allegations of impropriety and possible Federal election law violations. Therefore, as a matter of principal [sic], it is important to withhold judgment until it is determined that the Presidential election was held fairly and in compliance with the labor code," Modine stated. "If it is determined that the Presidential election was run within the election law and guidelines, I will fully support whomever has been fairly elected."

The SAG-AFTRA constitution reserves some powers to the union president but much to the national board. If there turns out to be a split in control, with one faction controlling the presidency and another the board, the results could be chaotic. The last time that happened, in the 2008-2009 election, SAG president Alan Rosenberg, an MF leader, ended up suing his own union in an unsuccessful attempt to wrest control from the new UFS majority on the board. A split could also impair the union's ability to negotiate effectively with the studios next year in advance of a June 30 expiration of the master TV/theatrical contracts.

In general, UFS' approach is expected to be a continuation of past policies, which the slate says has brought the union success in such major contracts as TV/theatrical, commercial, Telemundo and, most recently, a Netflix deal decoupled from the master TV/theatrical agreements. That decoupling gives the union the opportunity to threaten a targeted strike next year against legacy media companies when the current master agreements expire, while allowing Netflix to continue to produce. It's a threat that should give the union a degree of leverage it doesn't usually have.

Paramount to UFS' platform when it began in 2008 was the merger of SAG and AFTRA. That was achieved in 2012, with the merger of TV/theatrical agreements obtained in 2014 and of the health plans in 2017, as The Hollywood Reporter first reported at the time. Although the SAG and AFTRA pension plans remain separate, with no merger yet in sight, UFS leadership points to its string of deals and other advances as victories that would not have been achieved had SAG and AFTRA remained two separate, wary and sometimes warring unions.

MF, in contrast, bitterly opposed the merger and maintains to this day that the benefits and achievements have been oversold. Observers believe that a strike is likelier under MF. Much of the slate dislikes national executive director David White, who was installed by UFS in 2009 to replace a top executive chosen by MF. It's clear to most UFS activists that MF would likely try to fire White, though a spokesman for Modine recently disclaimed any such intention.

Carteris, then executive vp, became acting president in March 2016, when president Ken Howard died. She was elected the next month as president by the board of directors and re-elected by the membership in 2017.

Aug. 29, 6:47 a.m. Updated with Matthew Modine's statement.