SAG-AFTRA’s political battles are going to intensify in the wake of an improved showing in Thursday’s election by the opposition Membership First faction.
Ken Howard was re-elected to a two-year term to the presidency over “Home Improvement” star Patricia Richardson with 53.7% of the vote with 16,233 votes to Richardson’s 13,976 — a margin far closer than in the 2013 race when Howard handily defeated Esai Morales.
And Howard’s running mate Jenny O’Hara lost to Membership First’s Jane Austin for the secretary-treasurer slot. Austin also defeated Howard’s ally Clyde Kusatsu for the presidency of the Los Angeles local.
“Ken Howard does not get a mandate from this election,” Richardson told Variety. “This puts a lot more pressure on him to push harder in negotiations.”
Howard’s Unite For Strength slate has dominated SAG-AFTRA since it was created in 2012 and in the last three years of SAG. The actor, best known for “The White Shadow,” has espoused a path of moderation and largely avoided mobilizing the union’s 165,000 members.
Howard and his allies touted their accomplishments in the campaign, citing contract gains in last year’s successor deal for the master contract with producers and faster delivery of residuals, while Membership First asserted that Howard had been too accommodating to employers at negotiations, had overspent on the New York offices, had cloaked operations in secrecy and had not achieved gains in the booming digital sector.
Membership First, which has long advocated a more confrontational style, was in power from 2005 to 2009 before Howard was elected to the SAG presidency on a platform of merger and moderation. The faction lost power in the next three elections with only a few prominent reps such as Martin Sheen, Joanna Cassidy, Morales and Richardson remaining on the national board.
But the faction made its best showing since 2007 on Thursday with Austin’s victories and Ed Asner, Diane Ladd, Frances Fisher, David Jolliffe, Robin Riker and Jodi Long winning seats on the 70-member national board. It also has upped its share of the Los Angeles local board to 40%.
“It’s a bit embarrassing for me to lose but we got so much traction from members that we’ve got something to build on,” Richardson said. “I did this because there are so many actors who can’t make a living. I’m doing this for what I used to be.”