Ken Howard has been re-elected national president of SAG-AFTRA, easily defeating Esai Morales as his primary challenger in the first contest to lead performers union since last year’s merger of SAG and AFTRA.
Howard was first elected as a SAG moderate in 2009 and re-elected in 2011 — winning both times on a platform advocating the merger of SAG and AFTRA, which was overwhelmingly approved by members in March, 2012. Though the combo remains controversial among some members, Howard was widely expected to retain his prexy post.
Howard received 16,396 votes to Morales’ 9,850 while background actors Paul Edney (who endorsed Morales) and Marilyn Monrovia received 1,359 and 960 votes respectively. A total of 139,967 ballots were set out on July 16 with 28,755, or 20.54%, returned by Thursday.
Howard became the 25th and final president of SAG in 2009 shortly after winning an Emmy for “Grey Gardens” and has always portrayed himself as a pragmatist. Morales, best known for his role on “NYPD Blue,” has asserted that the current leaders are out of touch with rank-and-file members and have left too much power in the hands of the union’s executive staff.
“I’m gratified that members across the country have reelected me to lead our union and continue building on the strong foundation we created through merger,” Howard said in a statement. “I look forward to joining the delegates who will assemble in Los Angeles for the first SAG-AFTRA convention in late September, and then moving forward with the new leadership team to do the important work that members have entrusted to us.”
Morales and Austin did win national board seats on the new 80-member board as part of a revived Membership First faction that has sought to push the performers union away from moderation.
Membership First also saw Martin Sheen receive the highest vote total in the board contest while Morales received the third highest vote total. Joanna Cassidy, Patricia Richardson and Sumi Haru also won national board seats for Membership First but the Unite For Strength faction continued to dominate with Jeff Garlin, Tony Shalhoub, Stephjen Collins, Gabrielle Carteris and Marcia Wallace winning.
“I’m very grateful for the support I received,” Morales told Variety. “More than ever, I’m dedicated to improving the lot of actors. You have not heard the last of me.”
Howard revealed in June that SAG-AFTRA leaders plan to begin contract negotiations next year on a successor deal to its feature-primetime contract. No date has been set for the start of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for the successor to the current master contract, which expires June 30 but several insiders have said privately that they are expecting the union to hold its “wages and working conditions” meetings early next year.
Morales campaigned on a variety of issues such as the slow payment of residuals, lack of transparency by the union during the recent commercial contracts negotiations, the erosion of standards for middle-class actors and the recent moves to close 10 of the branch offices.
Morales and Austin admitted when they launched their campaign that Membership First would not be able to win enough seats at the election to gain control of the SAG-AFTRA board from the Unite for Strength faction, which first took over the SAG board four years ago and avidly pursued merger.
The self-styled progressives in the Membership First faction did not enter a slate in the final SAG election in 2011 after being defeated convincingly by the self-described moderates of Unite for Strength, who had avidly pursued merger. Membership First lost all 13 of their open seats on the 71-member national board in 2010, including Morales.
Membership First had only a handful of reps on the 110-member SAG-AFTRA board including Sheen, Elliott Gould, Anne-Marie Johnson and Scott Bakula.
The elections are the first step toward a “permanent governance structure” with 70 board seats allotted for the 22 locals with Los Angeles having 28 seats and New York with 16. A total of 10 national officers will also serve on the SAG-AFTRA national board bringing its total size to 80.
In Los Angeles, 91 candidates ran for the 28 national board seats, along with 83 candidates for 45 local board seats and 178 for delegate slots. Clyde Kasatsu won the local presidency over John Tremaine.