SAG Election is Drawing Surprising Battle Lines in New York
Both factions favor merger with AFTRA, but deploy dueling endorsements.
In SAG’s New York elections this year, there’s a fight between two pro-merger slates: as previously reported, the long-dominant United Screen Actors Nationwide is being challenged by a breakaway group, One.Strong.Union. That challenge apparently came as a surprise.
"When I noticed who it was, I was extremely disappointed," said New York board president and USAN incumbent Mike Hodge. "I had not been given a heads up by anyone in the boardroom that there was any kind of discontent, let alone discontent of that level." As for the motivation for this challenge, Hodge said it had occurred to him that the OSU candidates "may be positioning themselves to be the leaders of the new organization" that would emerge post-merger, but he added he was not certain if that was the case.
Hodge also said he has heard OSU candidates refer to "dead wood" on the USAN slate. "It strikes me that the people that they're referring to are the people that are background actors. I notice that they don't have background actors on their slate. We do. It is important to me that we represent our entire membership."
When asked whether he saw any difference between OSU and USAN on merger and other issues, Hodge responded, "In terms of policy, I see no differences."
OSU’s candidate for New York board president is Sam Robards, who described himself and his fellow OSU candidates as "absolutely 100 percent pro-merger." He said his group and USAN "have different perspectives, different approaches" on the issue. "The main thing is that who is elected to the board will have a direct effect on the shape and the success of the merger effort," Robards said. When asked how the New York board would differ under OSU leadership, he made several references to increased "transparency" but did not offer specifics.
"There are specific ideas, and I'll talk about that in the coming weeks," Robards said. "But basically I want to make the work of the board transparent. I want give the membership more opportunities to be directly involved in the work of the guild. Inclusion is really important."
Robards also pointed to his group's website and the massive number of endorsements gathered there. Although Hodge and USAN have received the official backing of SAG national president Ken Howard and secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino, OSU lists among its supporters former New York division president and USAN member Paul Christie and current AFTRA New York local president and first national vice president Holter Graham. Does Hodge feel that the endorsement by one of AFTRA's top officers of a challenger to New York's division president could undermine the merger effort?
"I can't say whether it undermines the merger process," he said. "That depends on how members respond, I suspect. It's regrettable that the sitting AFTRA New York local president would openly oppose the sitting New York SAG president and the board candidates with whom he's running, especially since we are endorsed by the sitting national president and secretary-treasurer."
Graham, for his part, confirmed his endorsement of Robards and OSU to Back Stage. He emphasized he is offering his support as an individual and that it does not reflect any official position of AFTRA. "The reason I got into union work in the first place is to do the best for the members, and I think that that's what [OSU] is looking to do, especially as we go looking to build a new union," Graham said. "The most open minds and the people most energized toward finding the best solutions are the ones that are going to help us the most, and that's who I think these people are."