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SAG-AFTRA Presidential Election Heats Up in the Home Stretch

With 10 days left for members to vote, SAG-AFTRA’s national election is seeing plenty of attacks as the union’s two major factions denounce each other in a bid to sway the 144,000 performer members.

The minority Membership First group, headed by Esai Morales, has accused the dominant Unite for Strength of bungling the recent negotiations for a new contract, which was ratified by membership on Aug. 7 by a 76-24 margin. The union’s negotiating committee was led by president Gabrielle Carteris, who’s seeking re-election.

“There are over 450 scripted television programs — yet it’s harder than ever for working actors to make a living or get pension and health credits … Because the contracts haven’t kept up with the marketplace,” Membership First said. “We do not support the new travel provisions. It’s a huge give-away that obliterates decades long negotiated travel provisions that benefited performers.”

Membership First is also accusing Carteris and her allies of selling out to SAG-AFTRA’s staff. “Above all we want our union to actually be governed by the membership,” the faction said. “Not board members who accede to every staff whim and want.”

Unite for Strength has hit back by accusing Morales of being negligent in his role as first VP of the union’s Los Angeles local by not attending 33 of the 35 board meetings over the past five years. “Leaders show up. #SAGAFTRA President @TheGabrielle_C shows up.. and then some,” the faction tweeeted.

Independents Pete Antico, Robert Martin Jr., and Marilyn Monrovia are also running for the office. Carteris pushed for members to ratify the union’s three-year  deal with production companies covering film and primetime TV work. Morales and Antico campaigned against ratification, saying the contract falls particularly short in travel provisions, basic cable, and residuals.

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, Katie Barberi, and Bertila Damas; Membership First has been endorsed by Rosanna Arquette, Ed Asner, Jason Bateman, Mireille Enos, Elliott Gould, Ed Harris, Laraine Newman, Nancy Sinatra, and Cindy Williams.

The union election also covers election of many of 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 went out only to the 144,000 members who were paid up on their dues. The film-TV deal, reached on July 4, covers more than $1 billion in annual earnings by members.

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