Unite for Strength gains control of union board

Dissidents have won control of SAG’s national board in a surprise result that heightens the chances of an end to the guild’s contract stalemate with the majors.

With Amy Brenneman and Adam Arkin leading the way as top vote-getters, the upstart Unite for Strength faction won six of the 11 Hollywood seats, with the more confrontational Membership First faction losing control for the first time in three years.

Unite for Strength — which had contended that Membership First has bungled the negotiations — now has a razor-thin majority on the 71-member board since the coalition’s expected to ally with reps in New York and the regional branches.

In the wake of the stunning power shift, the wheels were already turning Thursday evening toward breaking the three-month logjam between SAG and the congloms. Hollywood heavyweights plan to start reaching out immediately to the new elected reps to figure out ways to tweak the congloms’ offer enough to close a deal for a new SAG feature-primetime contract.

The bitterly fought election amounted to a member referendum on how SAG’s conducted the contract negotiations, which have stalled for over two months, with SAG insisting it must receive a better deal than the WGA, DGA and AFTRA.

Along with Arkin and Brenneman, Unite for Strength’s Ken Howard, Pamela Reed and Kate Walsh also won Hollywood seats along with incumbent Morgan Fairchild, who was endorsed by the coalition. Unite for Strength received backing from high-profile actors such as Marcia Cross, Sally Field, Tom Hanks, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Mark Ruffalo and Gary Sinise.

Membership First candidates took five Hollywood seats, with incumbent JoBeth Williams scoring the third highest vote total among the 84 Hollywood candidates. Newcomers Scott Bakula, Keith Carradine and Joely Fisher also won national seats as part of the Membership First slate along with incumbent Lainie Kazan.

Unite for Strength also dominated the voting for the alternate national board seats in Hollywood, winning 13 of the 22 seats and greatly reducing Membership First’s control of the Hollywood board.

UFS winners included Marcia Wallace, Dule Hill, Doug Savant, Gabrielle Carteris, Clyde Kusatsu, L. Scott Caldwell, Ashley Crow, Ned Vaughn, Richard Speight Jr., Stacey Travis, Tim DeKay, Bill Smitrovich and Assaf Cohen; Membership First winners were Joe Bologna, Clancy Brown, Jane Austin, France Nuyen, Anthony DeSantis, Eugene Boggs, Charles Shaughnessy, Yale Summers and Alan Ruck.

In New York, members of the United Screen Actors Nationwide swept as Sam Robards, Rebecca Damon, Matt Servitto, Tracey Godfrey and Mark Blum won national seats. USAN members Jack Landron, Ralph Byers, Jose Narciso, John Rothaman, Jay Potter, Kevin Scullin, Marc Barron and Manny Alfaro won alternate seats; Eric Bogosian, who ran as an independent, also won an alternate seat.

Turnout was at typical levels, with about 25% of eligible voters sending in ballots in Hollywood and 24% in New York.

The Unite for Strength victory caught Hollywood off-guard as it came on the heels of Wednesday’s announcement that 87% of SAG members had endorsed the board’s strategy of holding out for a better deal. The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has ridiculed those results on the grounds that the arguments presented to SAG members were one-sided and reflected the views of less than 10% of guild members.

SAG and the AMPTP — which made its final offer June 30 — haven’t met formally in more than two months.

With neither the majors nor SAG budging on the contract, the Unite for Strength victory dramatically lessens the chances that SAG’s leaders will be emboldened enough to ask members for a strike authorization — particularly since 75% of those voting would have to approve. And it also throws into doubt the future of SAG national exec director Doug Allen, hired two years ago by the Membership First-controlled board to take a tougher stance in negotiations.

Unite for Strength campaigned on a platform that questioned the competence of the current leaders in handling the contract negotiations. The coalition focused on the issue of SAG having alienated AFTRA to the point that AFTRA negotiated its primetime deal separately — leaving SAG deleveraged in its contract talks.

Unite for Strength spokesman Ned Vaughn, who won an alternate seat, said, “We offered members a clear choice in this election — end the fighting with AFTRA and instead partner with them to create a stronger union for performers. The results in this unusually high turnout election leave no doubt that is what the members want. We look forward to working with all of our colleagues on the board to move SAG in this new direction.”

Membership First spokeswoman and board member Anne-Marie Johnson said the results did not surprise her given the celebrity clout wielded by the Unite for Strength slate.

And — in a sign that getting SAG’s board to agree on a position won’t be simple — Johnson said that she’s not expecting SAG’s position toward the AMPTP to change, pointing to July’s unanimous board endorsement of SAG’s position on new-media jurisdiction.

“This is certainly not a mandate,” she added. “Unite for Strength was critical of how the negotiations had been handled, but they also supported what we’ve been doing.”

SAG president Alan Rosenberg, who came to power three years ago, issued a call for unity.

“I congratulate those members newly elected to our board of directors and I look forward to working closely with each of them,” he said. “Now it’s time to work in tandem on behalf of SAG members throughout the country to get a fair contract we can all be proud of.  A union divided benefits only the employers, and SAG members deserve nothing less than unified, focused leadership.”

During the campaign Membership First stressed the need to get a better deal and warned that Unite for Strength candidates would limit voting rights if it won the election, noting that most of the Unite for Strength slate of 31 candidates supported a move earlier this year to impose a work requirement on SAG members voting on contracts.

But Unite for Strength denied that allegation and pledged that its members would not implement any form of qualified voting.

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