SAG Merger Skeptics Running for National Board (Exclusive)

Scott Bakula, Esai Morales and Valerie Harper are among the candidates who have filed to compete in the union's upcoming election.

A dozen independent candidates described as opposed to – or at least skeptical of – SAG-AFTRA merger in the form currently evolving have filed to run in the upcoming SAG national board elections. The disclosure was made exclusively to THR by a recently-formed anti-merger group called Union Democracy Now, which said that the candidates had authorized it to share the information.  However, at least one candidate denied he had given such permission or that he was opposed to merger.

The candidates, who are all running from the guild’s Hollywood division, include Scott Bakula, George Coe, Valerie Harper, David Hillberg, David Jolliffe, Mobin Khan, William Mapother, Esai Morales, Scott Pierce, and John Tremaine. Two other candidate names were not disclosed, although Clancy Brown was mentioned by one UDN member.

Most of the candidates listed have previously served on the national board and previously ran under the banner of MembershipFirst, the group that controlled the national board from 2005-2008 under president Alan Rosenberg. However, this time, they are not running as a slate.

Several of the named candidates confirmed their candidacy to THR, but it was not possible to reach most of them. After this piece originally posted, one candidate, who declined to be named, insisted that he/she was not anti-merger, but suggested that he/she did not favor including non-actor members of AFTRA in a merger, and also raised a variety of other concerns. The candidate acknowledged that “merger skeptic” was a fair description of the candidate’s position.

After seeing the original piece, another candidate, Mapother, told THR that he was “Pro-AFTRA merger.” He said that he “would potentially support” a merger that included all AFTRA members, including newscasters and sound performers, as well as actors. He too raised a number of issues, and implied that he favored the current SAG approach to those matters over the AFTRA approach.

In a subsequent email, Mapother expanded on his position: “Including non-actors would not be a deal-breaker for me. Any disadvantage from it is likely outweighed by the potential gain from a merger.” Regarding UDN, he added, “I did not authorize UDN to give my name. I've never even heard of them (and) I'm somewhat less than flattered.”

MembershipFirst, under whose auspices both Mapother and the candidate who declined to be named previously ran, had been more harshly critical of AFTRA and spoke not of merger, but of simply ousting AFTRA from any jurisdiction over actors and acquiring that jurisdiction for SAG. Citing documents and legal decisions dating to the early 1950’s, MembershipFirst described SAG as the rightful home for such work: “there already is a single union for actors, and it’s the Screen Actors Guild,” is how one MF leader once expressed it.

For its part, AFTRA has made clear that any merged union must include all AFTRA members. That position – which AFTRA president Roberta Reardon has shorthanded as “all of us or none of us” – is part of the basis on which the merger plan between AFTRA and SAG is being developed.

Union Democracy Now, which has been regularly meeting since its formation a number of months ago, is opposed to merger, but emphasized that it (UDN) does not constitute a slate-making group. Indeed, although at least two of the candidates are part of UDN, most are not. Group members disagreed on whether the group wished to be described as endorsing the listed board candidates, or simply as “supportive” of or “recommending” the candidates.

Hillberg is also running for SAG president against current president Ken Howard and for secretary/treasurer against incumbent Amy Aquino, both of whom are leaders of the pro-merger Unite for Strength faction. Merger advocates – UFS, a Hollywood independent member, and the New York and regional branch board members – have had a majority on the SAG national board since fall 2008.

Multiple candidacy such as Hillberg’s is allowed under guild rules. If Hillberg wins multiple offices, he would have to choose one of them and forego the others.

There are generally 11 Hollywood-based seats up for election in any given year, and 22 alternate slots; this year’s exact figures are 12 and 22. Those numbers make 34 candidates a full slate, whereas there are at most 12 merger-skeptic candidates in the list cited by UDN.

The size of the UFS slate is not known. However, running on a pro-merger platform, the group has won increasingly large majorities since 2008, and last year gained control even of the Hollywood divisional board, which had long been controlled by the anti-merger MembershipFirst.

A joint SAG-AFTRA Group for One Union (G1) is currently developing the plan for merger of the two labor organizations, which is expected to be presented to the two unions’ memberships in February or March. Approval requires a 60% affirmative vote by each union.

In New York, a pro-merger slate called One Strong Union is running against the established United Screen Actors Nationwide group, which is also pro-merger. The OSU candidates are incumbents Justin Barrett, Andrew Dolan, Joe Narciso, Sam Robards and Matt Servitto, and new candidates Corey Anker, Kelly Deadmon, Jeff Gurner, Phoebe Jonas and Gy Mirano.

In addition, Robards is running for New York division president against the USAN-endorsed incumbent, Mike Hodge.

In an email, OSU said that its incumbents had “parted ways” with USAN based on the need for “fresh voices, . . . new perspectives, and a return to the principles upon which USAN was founded.” The group declined to explain further or otherwise comment.

There have been rumblings in the past among some New York board members and activists who have felt excluded from decision-making in the division’s boardroom. A source cited to THR a need for a “more transparent, more inclusive” board.

USAN was founded about ten years ago, and is a New York-based group despite the “Nationwide” in its name. As previously reported, its board slate this year is Manny Alfaro, Dave Bachman, Marc Baron, Lewis Black, Mark Blum, Rebecca Damon, Traci Godfrey, Ezra Knight, Jay Potter, John Rothman, and Kevin Scullin.

There are five open seats and nine alternate positions open in New York, meaning that neither faction is fielding a full slate. In both New York and Los Angeles, national board members plus alternates constitute the divisional board in addition to their national board role.

SAG has not yet released the official list of this year’s qualifying board candidates. That list is expected to be released this week. The ballot deadline is as yet unannounced, but is usually in late September.

To recap other previously reported union election news:

AFTRA convention delegates last weekend reelected Reardon by unanimous acclamation to a third two-year term as national president. Most of the other national officers were also reelected.

In June, the DGA re-elected Taylor Hackford to a second term as president by acclamation at the Guild’s National Biennial Convention. Steven Soderbergh was re-elected national vice president; Gilbert Cates, who formerly served two terms as president, was re-elected secretary-treasurer. Other officers and board members were elected as well.

Over at the WGA West, the officer candidates are as follows: President – Patric M. Verrone, Christopher Keyser; Vice President – Howard A. Rodman, John Aboud; Secretary-Treasurer – David N. Weiss (incumbent), Carl Gottlieb. The current president, writer-producer John Wells, is not seeking another term.

Verrone was president of the WGA West from 2005-2009 and organized and presided over the WGA’s 2007-2008 strike.

There are 18 candidates nominated to run for eight open seats on the guild’s board: Anthony Sparks, Billy Ray (inc.), Jay Kogen, Thania St. John, Michael Oates Palmer, David S. Goyer, Nelson Soler, Alfredo Barrios, Jr., Jeff Lowell (by petition), Ian Deitchman (inc.), Carleton Eastlake (inc.), Barbara E. Nance, Ari B. Rubin, John Brancato, Linda Burstyn (inc.), Mark Alton Brown, Nell Scovell, Dan Wilcox (inc.). WGAW rules require candidates to be announced in an order determined by lot.

In New York, the WGA East previously announced its officer and Council candidates; two-term president Michael Winship is running unopposed for reelection.

Twitter: @jhandel