The SAG-AFTRA election campaign has heated up, with Octavia Spencer and Ron Perlman endorsing co-president Ken Howard’s Unite For Strength slate in the union’s first election.

Ballots for the election went out Tuesday to the 160,000 members of the performers union and must be returned by Aug. 15. The self-styled moderates of the Los Angeles-based UFS faction have dominated elections in recent years,  pushing for last year’s successful merger of SAG and AFTRA.

UFS has fielded a slate of 52 candidates, while the revitalized Membership First faction has 16 candidates running, led by Esai Morales challenging Howard for president.

SEE ALSO: Ken Howard Seeking To Remain SAG-AFTRA President (EXCLUSIVE)

“UFS is about one thing: building strength to protect performers,” Spencer said. “They’ve proven it and they will keep on doing it.”

“Unite for Strength’s record of success proves that no one will fight harder or smarter to protect SAG-AFTRA members,” Perlman said. “With our TV/Theatrical negotiations ahead, it’s crucial to elect leaders who will deliver real results – that’s Unite for Strength.”

UFS also has endorsements from Holland Taylor, Clark Gregg, Adam Arkin, Jon Cryer and Lily Tomlin.

The group’s candidates include current secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino for the same slot and Clyde Kusatsu for Los Angeles local president. Notable UFS candidates include Tony Shalhoub, Gabrielle Carteris, Jeff Garlin, Patrika Darbo, Lisa Vidal, Hal Eisner, Jason George, Stephen Collins and Iqbal Theba.

Other candidates include Bobbie Bates, Susan Boyd Joyce, L. Scott Caldwell, Assaf Cohen, Mimi Cozzens, Ellen Crawford Patrick Fabian, Jon Huertas, Kate Linder, Allen Lulu, D. W. Moffett, Marisol Nichols, Jenny O’Hara, Conrad E. Palmisano, Robert Pine, Woody Schultz and Marcia Wallace.

“This election won’t just choose SAG-AFTRA’s leaders for the next two years, it will set our direction for years to come,” Howard said.

Howard revealed last month 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 in February. Those meetings are required for the union to formulate its proposals for the negotiations.

SEE ALSO: SAG-AFTRA Planning Contract Talks for 2014