Sunday, September 25, 2022

Fran Drescher Elected President of SAG-AFTRA, Rival Joely Fisher Wins Secretary-Treasurer

Fran Drescher has been elected president of SAG-AFTRA, in a victory for the faction that has led the union for a dozen years.

But Joely Fisher — who campaigned on the rival Membership First slate — has been elected secretary-treasurer.

Drescher will succeed Gabrielle Carteris, who has led the organization since 2016. Best known for her lead role on “The Nanny,” Drescher led the Unite For Strength slate, which has controlled the union since 2009 and is seen as the more moderate of the two factions that dominate the union’s internal politics.

In a campaign video, Drescher said she would bring “positivity and optimism” to her role as union president.

She defeated Matthew Modine, whose credits include “Full Metal Jacket” and “Stranger Things,” and who was making his second bid for president on the Membership First slate. Membership First has been around since 1999, and generally takes a more militant line on contract negotiations.

Fisher prevailed against Anthony Rapp, who was running for secretary-treasurer on the Unite For Strength slate.

The union’s two biggest locals, in Los Angeles and New York, are also holding their elections today.

The key issue in the national campaign was the August 2020 decision to raise the eligibility threshold for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan. That decision forced nearly 12,000 actors — mostly seniors — off the health care rolls. The health plan’s trustees have argued that they had little choice, given rising health costs and the dire financial circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Unite For Strength candidates did not defend the decision, but instead stressed that the health plan is a separate entity. However, 20 of the 38 health plan trustees are appointed by the union.

The Membership First slate argued that the health plan’s precarious financial position predated the pandemic, and that the union’s leadership had kept members in the dark about it. They supported a lawsuit, brought last December by 10 plan participants including the late Ed Asner, that laid the blame for the decision on the merger of SAG and AFTRA nearly a decade ago. Drescher has called the suit “frivolous” and argued that it is a waste of members’ money.

The dissident slate also charged that Drescher was too inexperienced, and had not previously been involved in union politics. In a Unite For Strength town hall on Zoom, Drescher cited her decades of activism and charitable work on issues like cancer and sexual violence.

“What I don’t know, I promise you I will learn very quickly, and what I do know cannot be taught,” she said.

The ballot counting is typically open to observers from each campaign. However, due to the pandemic, election observers were forced instead to watch the counting process on Zoom.

Before the results were revealed on Thursday, Carteris sent a farewell message to the membership, highlighting the union’s work on combatting sexual harassment and adapting to the rise of streaming.


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