Ken Howard Blasts SAG-AFTRA Election Opponents

SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard has issued a blistering attack on opponent Patricia Richardson and her Membership First allies, asserting that the faction’s record is one of failure.

Howard issued the broadside in an email to the 160,000 members of the performers union on Friday — a day after Richardson had blasted Howard and his allies for incompetence at the bargaining table, lavish spending and secrecy. Neither missive mentioned the presidential opponent by name.

“This election is critical to your future as a performer and as a union member,” he said. “There are those who want to lead our union who are making lots of empty promises… promises squarely at odds with the divisive positions they have taken for years. Worse, they want you to believe their hollow rhetoric is the same as actual results.”

About 140,000 ballots went out last week to dues-current members of SAG-AFTRA, with results due to be tabulated on Aug. 20. Howard won elections in 2009 and 2011 for the SAG presidency, and in 2013 won the post against Esai Morales in the first election for the merged SAG-AFTRA, running each time as the head of the moderate Unite for Strength slate — which has dominated politics in the performers unions since 2009.

Howard, who’s running with Jenny O’Hara for secretary-treasurer and New York president Mike Hodge, said the slate’s successes are due to “diligent planning and careful hard work.”

The Los Angeles-based Membership First faction was in charge of SAG during two periods — between 1999 and 2001, during William Daniels’ presidency, and between 2005 and 2008, when Alan Rosenberg was president. By early 2009, the moderates had gained power and fired Doug Allen from his post as national executive director, replacing him with David White, who remains in the slot.

The battles between the factions have been tempestuous as the progressives have insisted that taking an aggressive stand at the bargaining table is essential to improved contracts. Membership First took credit for the six-month strike in 2000 against the ad industry — which resulted in a major hike in cable payments and jurisdiction over new media — but that assertion is still derided by its opponents, including Howard.

“Membership First’s record is one of conflict, division and, ultimately, failure,” Howard said Friday. “At this moment in our union’s history — a time of profound change — it is more crucial than ever to elect leaders who deliver tangible results, not just empty promises.”

Howard was the foremost backer of the 2012 merger between SAG and AFTRA — a move that was bitterly opposed by Membership First on grounds that it would take away SAG’s unique character as an actors union.The faction went to court unsuccessfully to stop the election, alleging that a required feasibility study had not been performed on the effect the merger would have on the SAG health plan participants

SAG members backed the merger, which was touted by Howard as a way to solve the problem of the SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans being operated separately.

Howard said that there has been “significant progress” in merging the plans and touted over $800 million in contract gains during his tenure, citing a 25% increase to low-budget rates, faster residuals processing to an average of under 30 days and a doubling of compensation for high-budget new-media shows. He also pointed to a $9.1 million surplus in the recently approved SAG-AFTRA budget.

“These are the kinds of results you’ve come to expect, and we’re excited to keep delivering them,” he said. “I’m proud of our union’s success but I know that we can and will do even more. It is my mission to make sure SAG-AFTRA protects our members’ ability to do the work they love and to build their lives around it.”

Howard became the 25th and final president of SAG in 2009 shortly after winning an Emmy for “Grey Gardens” and has always portrayed himself as a pragmatist. Best known for playing the lead on the CBS series “The White Shadow,” he’s continued working while in office, recently logging feature film credits on “The Wedding Ringer” and “The Judge.”

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