Unite for Strength, Membership First unveil candidates

As election season gears up, Hollywood actors will see a hard-fought battle for control of the Screen Actors Guild.

The self-styled moderates of Unite for Strength and the more assertive Membership First factions unveiled Wednesday their respective slates of 35 and 28 candidates for 13 Hollywood seats — all currently held by Membership First — on the SAG national board. Only a dozen of the 75 candidates are independents.

Unite for Strength gained control of the board two years ago and has strengthened its hold to between 55% and 60%. Jeff Garlin and Ron Perlman are the most prominent entries among Unite for Strength candidates, which includes Gabrielle Carteris (“Alibi”), Clark Gregg (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”), Jon Huertas (“Castle”), Sam Jaeger (“Parenthood”), Donal Logue, D.W. Moffett (“Friday Night Lights”), Michael O’Keefe, Dileep Rao (“Avatar,” “Inception”), Stacey Travis and Ned Vaughn.

Membership First’s slate includes Bernie Casey, Clint Howard (“Night at the Museum 2″), Amy Madigan (“Gone Baby Gone”), former negotiating committee chief David Jolliffe and former president Alan Rosenberg along with 11 incumbents — Jane Austen, Jeff Austin, Joe D’Angerio, Frances Fisher, Valerie Harper, Sumi Haru, William Mapother, Esai Morales, Nancy Sinatra, Angela Watson and Jenny Worman.

The election portends another potentially bruising campaign as Unite for Strength stressed its ongoing commitment to a SAG merger with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. The self-styled progressives of Membership First were strong opponents to merger votes in 1999 and 2003, asserting that SAG would lose its identity, and pointing to complications with combining the health and pension plans.

Membership First has softened its position on the merger in recent months, with leaders noting that the move appears to be “inevitable” while promising to keep a close eye on the details.

Membership First leader Anne-Marie Johnson said Wednesday, “We are committed to maintaining the strength of SAG and enforcement of the terms of the contracts.”

Roughly a third of the 71 seats on the SAG board are up for re-election. Ballots will be mailed Aug. 24 and election results will be announced Sept. 23.

About 60% of SAG’s 120,000 members are part of the Hollywood Division, and the guild elections for those seats are invariably the most hotly contested. The elections usually draw about 25% participation from members.

Unite for Strength emerged two years ago and noted Wednesday that its 2008 election gains came in the wake of Rosenberg and his Membership First allies repeatedly attacking AFTRA, leading to AFTRA breaking off joint bargaining with SAG on the feature-primetime contract.

Rosenberg and his allies held out for a better deal than the DGA, WGA and AFTRA contracts but in June 2009, 78% of SAG members ratified a deal with terms similar to those of the other unions, despite Membership First’s fervent opposition.

Unite for Strength increased its majority in last fall’s election with Ken Howard defeating Johnson for the presidency. Membership First supporters asserted that the moderates took away SAG’s bargaining leverage by refusing to support a strike authorization during the contract negotiation with the congloms.

Howard’s top priority since become SAG prexy has been mending fences with AFTRA and the two unions are currently jointly prepping for the start of feature-primetime talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on Sept. 27.

Garlin said in a statement, “Thanks to Ken and UFS, SAG and AFTRA have teamed up to negotiate the TV and Film Contracts, putting us in a much stronger position than last time, when we were divided. It’s hard to believe nearly a quarter of SAG’s board wanted to negotiate separately again, but the key to staying strong is to elect more board members who see the importance of working together.”

Howard and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon recently announced that they had formed a “president’s forum” to start hammering out steps to merge SAG and AFTRA. Perlman made a strong endorsement of that move Wednesday.

“I’ve done just about every type of work possible in this business and it’s never made sense that my jobs were covered by separate unions,” he said. “With digital video fast becoming the state of the art in filmmaking, splitting work between SAG and AFTRA goes way beyond senseless; it is unacceptable. The only ones who benefit from that division are our employers and we have to put a stop to it. Performers deserve one union that covers all their work, period – and I’m running for the SAG board to help make it happen.”

Producers of nearly all new TV series have opted to sign with AFTRA in the past two years even though SAG and AFTRA share jurisdiction on shows shot in digital formats. The move toward AFTRA has led to complaints by Membership First supporters that SAG staff isn’t doing enough to stop that trend while Unite for Strength has asserted that the situation underlines the need to merge.

Vaughn, a co-founder of Unite for Strength, said Wednesday, “Recent history has proven that competing with ourselves is a terrible mistake. Actors are facing serious challenges ahead and we need to be as strong and united as possible to protect our livelihoods – that means one union for all of us.

The Unite for Strength slate includes Michelle Allsopp, Scotty Caldwell, William Charlton, Assaf Cohen, Mimi Cozzens, Ellen Crawford, Bertila Damas, Patrick Fabian, Jason George, Clyde Kusatsu, Christine Lakin, Dawnn Lewis, Gilles Marini, D.W. Moffett, Marisol Nichols, Jenny O’Hara, Michael O’Neill, Conrad Palmisano, Tara Radcliffe, Sarayu Rao, Woody Schultz, Bill Smitrovich, Mandy Steckelberg and Marcia Strassman

The Membership First slate includes Paul Napier, who recently won the Ralph Morgan award for service to SAG, along with Peter Antioco, Joe Bologna, Clancy Brown, Bob Carlson, Dave Clennon, Carole Elliott, Hetor Herrera, Larry Joshua, Peter Kwong, Scott Pierce and Alan Ruck.

The independents on the ballot include Renee Aubry, Rico Bueno, Matt Crabtree, Leigh French, David Hilberg, Mobin Khan, Salazar, Michele Santopietro, Joe Stevens, John Tremaine and DeWayne Williams.

In New York, all but one candidate was part of the United Screen Actors Nationwide — which has dominated the seats repping New York in recent years — with a slate of 14 including New York Division President Mike Hodge and incumbents Maureen Donnelly, Nancy Giles, Richard Masur and Sue-Anne Morrow. Masur served two terms as SAG president between 1995 and 1999.

Other USAN candidates are Manny Alfaro, Dave Bachman, Marc Baron, Justin Barrett, Andrew Dolan, Joe Narciso, Jay Potter, John Rothman and Kevin Scullin. Tom Nonnon is the other candidate in New York.

New York reps have about 25% of the seats on the 71-member national board. USAN’s been allied with the moderate wing of the national board, which has come to dominate during the past two years with the emergence of the Unite For Strenth faction in Hollywood as its taken over for the hardline Membership First faction.

USAN has been a strong supporter of merging SAG and AFTRA.

SAG also disclosed the following winners of voting for its regional branches: Steve Fried, Arizona; Nancy Duerr, Florida; Debra Nelson, Georgia; Robert Nelson, Houston; Roy Costley, New Mexico; Tom Chantler, San Francisco; Abby Dylan, Seattle; Anne Seward, Utah.

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