Candidate Gilbert blasts SAG prexy

Union should focus on runaway prod'n, residuals president hopeful sez

HOLLYWOOD — The campaign for the Screen Actors Guild presidency has heated up with candidate Melissa Gilbert blasting retiring prexy William Daniels and rival Valerie Harper.

“Now is when members most need their union to be out there fighting for them,” Gilbert said in her platform statement. “But SAG is failing them. Too weakened by mismanagement, too preoccupied with internal power struggles, the leadership is neglecting issues that have a profound effect on the well-being of members.”

The statement represents the first serious shot in the campaign to succeed Daniels, who has endorsed Harper, as head of the 98,000-member union. Board members Eugene Boggs and Angel Tompkins are also seeking the presidency; voting is set for the last three weeks of October.

The former “Little House on the Prairie” star, who announced her candidacy a month ago, said Harper has praised Daniels’ leadership and would be likely to maintain his policies. “I, on the other hand, strongly disagree,” Gilbert declared. “SAG is not serving its members as well as it should.”

Both Gilbert and Harper, who has not yet released a platform statement, were elected to the board last fall amid a rancor-free campaign that took place in the closing weeks of the strike against advertisers.

The upcoming campaign is likely to revisit the turbulence of Daniels’ successful challenge to two-term incumbent Richard Masur two years ago. Several of Gilbert’s positions echo those held by Masur, although she has insisted that she is an independent not tied to any faction.

Gilbert said SAG should focus on three basic issues: runaway production, residuals and respect for members, staff and allies.

Gilbert claimed that during Daniels’ tenure, SAG has pulled back legislative efforts to halt runaway production and cut efforts to organize non-union performers. She was critical of efforts by Daniels’ allies to reduce the size of the national board and boost Hollywood’s representation to reflect the region’s actual share of membership, contending those moves will lead to closures of branch offices and increase non-SAG acting work.

Gilbert faulted Daniels for lack of aggressiveness in seeking unpaid residuals and suggested that the current system of monitoring by producers should be replaced.

“Technology has come a long way since the current monitoring system was implemented,” she added. “Surely, with a little creative thinking, we could today devise a far better one.”

Gilbert blasted SAG’s leaders for not negotiating an earlier film-TV deal to avoid the current slowdown in work. “SAG members are now suffering the consequences of the leadership’s negligence,” she asserted.

Gilbert also accused the leaders of ignoring the guild’s financial problems and spending “with reckless abandon,” citing costs of $2.5 million for the strike, a $250,000 fee for the search firm to find a new national exec director and $22,000 per month paid to chief negotiator Brian Walton when inhouse execs could have been used.

Gilbert also blamed Daniels for SAG’s worsened relations with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America and the Assn. of Talent Agents. “As producers consolidate power, so, too, must we,” she declared. “As president, I would press the board to extend our hand once again to fellow unions and the ATA.”

She hammered Daniels for refusing to negotiate in good faith by reneging on a controversial deal that would have eased the bans on outside investments by production companies in agencies and vice versa. “The ATA’s position, though distasteful to some, reflects certain cold, hard realities and is clearly one that SAG needs to be willing to face and discuss,” she said.

Daniels has contended that the ATA deal would have represented an unacceptable conflict of interest for agents.

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