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Matthew Modine Accused of Violating Labor Laws With Campaign Videos

Matthew Modine has been accused by SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris of violating federal laws in his campaign to unseat Carteris.

The production of three campaign videos for Modine by the for-profit New York Film Academy — on whose board Modine sits — has been blasted by Carteris for alleged violations of federal labor law prohibiting union candidates from accepting contributions from any employer.

SAG-AFTRA’s election rules, sent out before every election, say, “The prohibition on employer contributions extends to every employer, regardless of the nature of the business or whether any union represents its employees.”

The NYFA videos were produced at no cost to Modine, who narrated and highlighted the contributions of stunt performers, background performers, singers and dancers. They’ve since been removed from Modine and the NYFA’s website.

“These aren’t just flagrant violations of our union election rules, but of federal labor law as well,” Carteris said. “It says a lot about Mr. Modine and Membership First’s poor decision-making, something we clearly can’t afford in our upcoming contract negotiations.”

Modine’s spokesman Adam Nelson denied the allegations, first reported by the Los Angeles Times,

“The NYFA public service announcements are not campaign videos,” Nelson said. “The NYFA PSAs do not endorse Matthew Modine or any other candidate. The PSAs are non-political, educational and solely promote the importance of stunt performers, singers and dancers and background actors. Matthew Modine fits none of those categories.”

“NYFA exclusively owns and controls the PSAs. NYFA created these PSAs for the purpose of educating the public on these issues,” Nelson said. “Matthew Modine donated his services as a voiceover actor for the PSAs because he strongly believes in them. There is no labor code violation of a candidate making a donation for a public service announcement. Matthew Modine receives no financial benefit from the PSAs.”

Modine is heading the progressive Membership First slate in what’s been a vitriolic campaign. Current secretary-treasurer Jane Austin, Abraham Justice and Queen Alljahye Searles are also running for president of the 160,000-member performers union with results announced Aug. 28.

Michael Wolly, a labor attorney at Zwerdling, Paul, Kahn & Wolly in Washington, D.C., said inclusion of the videos on Modine’s sites appeared to violate federal labor law.

In 2002, the Labor Department forced the Screen Actors Guild to re-run its presidential election after SAG sent out incorrect ballots to New York members. Melissa Gilbert was ultimately ruled the winner of both elections over Valerie Harper. A spokesperson for the Unite For Strength/USAN slate headed by Carteris said that its leaders are “considering our options” about asking the Labor Department to overturn the election results if Carteris does not win.

In another attack on Modine, Carteris ally Dan Navarro, the union’s vice president of recording artists/singers, told Variety that Modine’s use of Nina Simone’s Philips Records recording of “Feeling Good” was probably done without taking out the necessary licenses: a synchronization license for the song and a master use license for the record. He said use of the recording does not constitute “fair use” under copyright law.

Carteris added, “SAG-AFTRA is waging crucial legal fights to protect our members’ right to control their images, and every day we take enforcement actions against those who use our members’ work without authorization. It’s astonishing that Mr. Modine could think others’ work is free for him to use as he likes. That level of flawed judgement and inexperience should worry all of us as members.”

Carteris and her allies have been in control of SAG-AFTRA for a decade. Earlier this week, more than 100 women voiced support for Modine’s campaign for SAG-AFTRA presidency, following a joke he made at a candidates’ meeting that some decried as misogynist.

The Modine supporters, including Rosanna Arquette, Ellen Barkin, Frances Fisher, Diane Ladd and Daphne Zuniga, said in their statement, “We deplore the politics of personal destruction. As a matter of political discourse, it’s acceptable to argue facts – but it is simply wrong to personally attack and impugn any opponent’s character. We therefore reject, out of hand, in the strongest possible terms, this ugly mischaracterization of Matthew Modine’s words by members of Unite for Strength and their political allies.”

On Aug. 1, Carteris and seven of her supporters threatened via a cease-and-desist letter to file a lawsuit against Mondine and 19 of his allies over allegations of misconduct by Carteris. The letter came in response to attorney Robert Allen accusing Carteris of allegedly using insider information to take credit for SAG-AFTRA’s new deal with Netflix and alleged that she has been using union resources to promote her candidacy via official SAG-AFTRA videos.

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