Voting is ending for a particularly acrimonious SAG-AFTRA presidential election with results due to be announced as early as Thursday afternoon.
The counting of the ballots, with about a quarter of the 144,000 dues-current members expected to vote, will begin at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday.
The contest has featured accusations of election fraud and bungling the recent contract negotiations (made by Esai Morales and Membership First); negligence on safety issues and allowing massive staff salaries (made by independent stuntman Pete Antico); and Membership First’s alleged incompetence in the 2008 negotiations and its long opposition to the SAG-AFTRA merger (made by the Unite for Strength faction headed by current president Gabrielle Carteris).
The divisions within SAG-AFTRA run deep and have existed for the past two decades. Remarkably, the two main factions — the moderate-leaning Unite for Strength and the self-styled progressives of Membership First — have managed to revive the debate over the six-month commercials strike in 2000. Supporters of the strike have maintained that the work stoppage was essential to prevent massive proposed rollbacks to residuals while opponents have insisted the strike lasted far longer than necessary and took away massive amounts of work.
Linda Howard, a stuntwoman and widow of former president Ken Howard, tweeted an especially bitter attack on Membership First recently:
That attack evoked a dismissive response from Membership First. “In an attempt to win this election, Unite for Strength (UFS) has trotted out one of their time-worn whoppers — that Membership First (MF) was responsible for the joint 2000 SAG-AFTRA Commercial Strike. So, to set the record straight — again — with the TRUTH — there was no Membership First back then. It was Performer’s Alliance (PA),” they said.
“And of the twenty-six members of the Commercial Negotiating Committee, only seven were a part of PA. The remaining nineteen were affiliated with (Your Political Party Name Here). Not even close to being a PA majority. But it doesn’t matter which political party was in control of the negotiations – or the Board rooms of SAG and AFTRA – because the votes AND the actions taken during the Commercial Strike of 2000 were UNANIMOUS. THAT’S A FACT!”
The two sides have also been touting their endorsements. Unite for Strength has received backing from George Clooney, Octavia Spencer, Ron Perlman, Betty White, Bryan Cranston, Josh Gad, Rhea Perlman, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Dick Van Dyke. Membership First, meanwhile, has been endorsed by Rosanna Arquette, Ed Asner, Jason Bateman, Elliott Gould, Ed Harris, Piper Laurie, Laraine Newman, Rosie Perez, Nancy Sinatra, and Cindy Williams.
The union election also covers the members of the 80-seat national board. Unite for Strength and its allies control the board while Membership First has about a dozen seats.
SAG-AFTRA has about 160,000 members, but ballots only went out to the 144,000 members who were paid up on their dues.
Ken Howard, who led Unite for Strength for nearly a decade, won the 2015 election over Membership First’s Patricia Richardson. Ballots for the national officers election were mailed to 139,313 eligible voters, and less than 22% voted.
Morales also threatened to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor if Carteris again resigns her Los Angeles local seat to appoint a non-elected replacement, prompting Carteris to defend herself.
Richardson tweeted a photo Monday of Membership First campaigning for votes outside a screening.
Here’s a recent Twitter attack on Membership First from Unite for Strength: