All the caustic political infighting within SAG has caused prexy Melissa Gilbert to ask, “What’s my motivation?”
Citing “rifts that may very well be irreparable” within the guild’s leadership, the twice-elected president announced Thursday that she would not seek another term in office.
By Thursday’s deadline, Morgan Fairchild, Robert Conrad and Alan Rosenberg had filed declaration of candidacy forms with the guild. Fairchild’s been on the board as a Gilbert ally; Rosenberg, who’s married to Marg Helgenberger, is part of Membership First and a current board member; Conrad hasn’t previously held SAG office.
All eligible members had until 5 p.m. PT Thursday to deliver their candidacy forms to SAG staff. Ballots go out in September to SAG’s 100,000 members.
First elected in November 2001, Gilbert became the union’s 23rd president and only the third woman to hold the office. She defeated Valerie Harper in the first election, which was invalidated, and then in a re-run, and then topped Kent McCord two years ago.
Playing the equalizer
Her decision not to run leveled the playing field considerably between the two political factions within the guild: Membership First, which advocates a more confrontationalist stance with producers, and Gilbert’s Restore Respect, which seeks a more pragmatic approach to negotiations with employers.
Restore Respect currently has a narrow majority in the boardroom due to its strength in New York and the branches, while Membership First dominates the Hollywood seats.
In a statement, Gilbert described her years as president as “remarkable, at times frustrating, but incredibly rewarding,” adding she views her time at SAG with “no regrets.”
“It is no big secret that there are problems within the leadership of SAG,” Gilbert said. “There are rifts that may very well be irreparable.”
During much of Gilbert’s tenure, she found herself regularly in the midst of knock-down, drag-out fights over the style and philosophy of her staff counterpart, frequent ally and personal friend, now-ex union CEO, Bob Pisano.
Pisano endured several no-confidence votes from SAG’s Hollywood board, which insisted the former MGM and Par exec’s membership on the board of DVD giant Netflix made him unsuitable to negotiate contracts or win the guild any residuals on DVDs.
Pisano was able to achieve modest gains in both commercials and on the TV/feature contract, but the guild’s failure to achieve any gains on DVD residuals only fueled discontent among the more militant members of the guild.
Pisano’s and Gilbert’s tenures also were marked by fractious debates over the future of the guild itself. All three of the Pisano- and Gilbert-sponsored referenda were voted down: a dues increase, a merger with AFTRA and a revamp of SAG’s master franchise agreement with Hollywood’s major talent agents. In the last case, the “no” vote led to SAG losing oversight of those tenpercenteries.
In the meantime, whoever gains the SAG presidency will inherit a union whose national board is ideologically entrenched and extremely suspicious.
Fairchild, in an interview with Daily Variety, confirmed her candidacy and said she would be running with veteran TV and film character actor Lee Garlington seeking to succeed James Cromwell as secretary-treasurer as well as several other members vying for board seats.
“I hesitate to call it a slate, because it sounds like the factionalism I am trying to get away from,” Fairchild said, “But you could definitely say it’s a reform platform. I want to get the unity back in this union. No union can make everyone’s life perfect, but we have to protect our working people.”
Fairchild has served on SAG’s national board for three years. Despite that, she said, “I have an advantage in that I am not mad at anybody.”
Fairchild’s ambitious goal is to seek out more active participation from working members.
“We need to engage the members who are not quote unquote stars but working people who pay the rent by doing commercials, TV guest stars, videogame voiceovers.”
Fairchild also called for a more open discussion about the union’s most hot-button issue: a “work in trade” stipulation that would require members to work on contracts they vote on.
“I think we need to come to grips that no other union in the world would have so many people who don’t make a living in the trade voting,” said Fairchild, “But as soon as you say, ‘work in trade,’ people think, ‘I’m not working today! They want to take my vote away!’ It’s kind of the third rail of (this union). I’m not trying to cram anything down anyone’s throat, but we do need to have an adult discussion about it.”
Rosenberg, whose recent credits include recurring roles on “The Guardian” and “Chicago Hope,” will run as the head of a Membership First slate with Connie Stevens as his running mate for secretary-treasurer.
Rosenberg told Daily Variety he’s running because of his disappointment over the divisiveness he’s witnessed within the SAG board room.
He also criticized what he perceived as the lack of significant gains in the recent TV-film contract negotiations, which included a concession on primetime series with no residuals for regulars on reruns of the first three episodes for a 60-day window.
“SAG’s leaders need to stand up strong for the members,” Rosenberg said. “That means not giving back residuals.”
Rosenberg said he’ll aim his campaign at all SAG members rather than just the successful ones. “I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a struggling actor,” he added.
Conrad could not be reached for comment.
Gilbert won re-election in 2003 with 15,760 votes, or 49.5%, to top McCord’s 13,242 (41.9%) and Gordon Drake’s 2,418 votes (7.6%).