About 144,000 SAG-AFTRA election ballots have started hitting performers’ mailboxes this week — only one week after union members were asked to ratify a three-year successor deal to the master contract.
As a result, the question of whether to ratify the contract is the key issue among presidential candidates. Current SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who heads the moderate Unite for Strength faction, has strongly endorsed the deal while Esai Morales and stuntman Peter Antico are pushing for a “No” vote.
The union reached a deal with Hollywood producers on July 4. The new deal, if ratified, provides for $256 million in increased pay over the three years with minimums increasing by 2.5% in the first year, 3% in the second year, and 3% in the third year. Employers will also provide a 0.5% hike in contributions paid to the SAG pension plan and AFTRA retirement fund in the first year of the agreement along with “significant” improvements in the residuals rate paid by streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon.
The deal covers work on feature films and primetime television. The contract generates more than $1 billion in annual earnings for the 160,000 SAG-AFTRA members. Only dues-current members were sent election and ratification ballots.
Morales, who heads the Membership First ticket of self-styled progressives, has detailed problems with changes in the travel costs, basic cable, motion-capture, and background players in the tentative deal, asserting that SAG-AFTRA leaders had promised to rectify perceived abuses and have failed to do so. He also questioned reaching a deal at 6 a.m. on July 4, asserting that fatigue may have played a factor in making concessions and said he did not understand the tactic of promising to seek a strike authorization from members, but never following through.
Antico, who’s running independently, has asserted that the deal falls short for stunt performers, background actors, dancers, singers, and voiceover artists and includes unacceptable concessions in compensation for travel.
Antico has also been stressing safety issues in the wake of the July 12 death of stuntman John Bernecker on the set of “The Walking Dead.” He’s been endorsed by Mickey Rourke and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Ratification voting began after the SAG-AFTRA national board approved the tentative deal on July 15, with 77% of the 80-member panel voting in favor. Members must vote by Aug. 7, when the results are expected to be announced.
Ballots for the national election went out July 25 and must be returned by Aug. 24. Independents Robert B. Martin, Jr. and Marilyn Monrovia are also running for president. The candidates for national secretary-treasurer are incumbent Jane Austin of Membership First, Jason George of Unite for Strength, and Chuck Slavin.
Carteris was voted into the presidency unanimously by the national board in April, 2016, following the death of longtime ally Ken Howard. She announced her run on July 12 as head of the dominant Unite for Strength faction.
She has been endorsed by Octavia Spencer, Alec Baldwin, Rita Moreno, Jane Lynch, Noah Wyle, Margo Martindale, Regina King, Michael Cudlitz, Keith David, John Cho, Phylicia Rashad, Robert Patrick, Stephen Lang, and Luke Perry. Carteris is also backed by the New York-based United Screen Actors Nationwide faction, which is running a slate with New York local president Mike Hodge seeking re-election.
Carteris has been touting her experience as president, which includes heading the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee and leading a nine-month strike against 11 video game companies over work by voice actors and stunt performers.
“I don’t shy away from righteous struggles, no matter the obstacles,” she said in a message sent out in campaign materials this week. “Whether it’s fighting age discrimination, organizing Telemundo, striking for residuals and safety for video game performers or negotiating billion dollar contracts, I always show up ready to fight for your future.”