In what promises to be a contentious contest, SAG-AFTRA’s national board election has drawn an array of high-profile candidates including Amy Aquino, Ed Asner, Ellen Crawford, Frances Fisher, Diane Ladd and Lisa Vidal.
The union, which reps about 160,000 performers disclosed its official candidates list Thursday night. Ballots go out July 21 to dues-current members and will be counted on Aug. 20.
Patricia Richardson is challenging Ken Howard for the presidency of SAG-AFTRA as the head of the progressive-leaning Membership First slate. Howard is heading the moderate Unite for Strength and United Screen Actors Nationwide slates, which controlled SAG starting 2009 and have dominated SAG-AFTRA politics since the 2012 merger.
Howard touted his accomplishments in his statement: “With your support, I will continue fighting relentlessly to protect us– it is my passion and mission. Since I’ve been president,members have approved contracts that putover $800 million of increased wages in performers’ pockets, organized new areas of work and scored historic pension and health gains. I’m proud of that success, but we can do even more. We must finalize merger of our health plans – and we will. Most important, we must leverage our power to win even greater contract gains, so our members can earn a good living no matter how the business changes.”
Richardson blasted SAG-AFTRA leaders for being too accomodating to employers: “You may know me as the Mom on ‘Home Improvement.’ I was lucky to get that job but I was previously working in both Unions for years when it was possible to make a decent living without being a star. I’ve watched the erosion of residuals, the give aways by our negotiators, the buy outs, the new mediums that we haven’t gotten our fair share of. I can’t stand by and watch any longer. I want to give something back, help this evolving Union solidify, get different factions to work together, realize its power as one union.”
Stuntwoman Jane Austin is Richardson’s running mate for the secretary-treasurer post. Board member Jenny O’Hara is Howard’s running mate.
Aquino, currently starring in “Bosch,” is the current SAG-AFTRA secretary-treasurer and is running independently.
Asner, Fisher and Ladd are part of the Los Angeles-based Membership First faction, which has only a handful of seats on the national board. Asner served as SAG president from 1981 to 1985; Fisher is best known for starring in “Titanic” and Ladd has received Oscar nominations for “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Rambling Rose” and “Wild at Heart.”
Longtime “ER” cast member Crawford and “Being Mary Jane” star Vidal are incumbent members of the national board and part of Unite for Strength.
Other Unite for Strength board members seeking re-election include Mimi Cozzens, Conrad Palmisano (“21 Jump Street” stunts), “Avatar” actor Woody Schultz, Patrick Fabian (“Better Call Saul”), Gabrielle Carteris (“Beverly Hills, 90210”), L. Scott Caldwell (“Lost”), Jon Huertas (“Castle”), broadcaster Hal Eisner, John Carroll Lynch (“American Horror Story”), Elizabeth McLaughlin (“Pretty Little Liars”), Autumn Reeser (“The O.C.”) and Iqbal Theba (“Glee”).
SAG-AFTRA is headquartered in Los Angeles. The region has 28 of the 70 seats on the union’s national baord and is the only area in which there are sustained political battles.
Howard announced on June 1 that he would seek re-election with endorsements coming from George Clooney, Bryan Cranston, Betty White, Rita Moreno, Octavia Spencer, Ron Perlman, Clark Gregg and Josh Gad. Richardson announced her candidacy on June 25.
Turnout in the 2013 election — the first for the merged SAG-AFTRA — was about 20.5%, with ballots mailed to 139,967 eligible voters.
Howard, 71, has headed SAG-AFTRA since it was created three years ago and easily defeated Esai Morales — who headed the Membership First slate — and two other challengers in 2013.
Howard was first elected as SAG president, positioning himself as a moderate and pragmatist, in 2009 and re-elected in 2011. He won both times on a platform advocating for the merger of SAG and AFTRA, which was overwhelmingly approved by members despite active opposition from Membership First.
Richardson, 64, is best known for her role as Jill Taylor during the eight-year run of “Home Improvement” during 1991-99 and was nominated four times for an Emmy in the lead actress in a comedy series.
For the 28 open national board seats representing Los Angeles, the only Membership First candidates elected two years ago were Austin, Morales, Richardson, Sheen, Joanna Cassidy and the late Sumi Haru. Sheen, who received the most votes of all candidates, was elected to a four-year term as were Austin, Cassidy and Morales.
Sheen and Morales are both seeking seats on the Los Angeles board in the current election.
Since the merger, SAG-AFTRA leaders have opted to keep a low profile during negotiations on the union’s master contracts and eschewed attempting to mobilize the membership in support of bargaining positions. In recent months, however, Howard has led an effort urging members to refuse non-union work.