UPDATED with details: Fran Drescher has been elected president of SAG-AFTRA and, in a split decision, her opponent’s running mate, Joely Fisher, has been elected national secretary-treasurer. Drescher defeated Matthew Modine, who was making his second bid for the presidency, but her running mate, Anthony Rapp, lost to Fisher.
The final vote count has yet to be announced.
This is the third split-ticket vote since SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012 and the first since 2017, when Unite for Strength’s Gabrrielle Carteris was elected president and MembershipFirst rival Jane Austin was re-elected secretary-treasurer.
And this could be just the medicine for a union badly divided.
Drescher, who was running at the top of the ruling party’s Unite for Strength ticket, was endorsed by Gabrielle Carteris, who defeated Modine for the union’s top elected post two years ago but did not seek re-election this time.
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The Nanny alum, who hasn’t held union office until now, ran a spirited campaign. She posted upbeat videos for candidates she backed in local races all across the country, while embracing a progressive platform that promised to put more money into members’ pockets through tougher contract negotiations, protect their pension and health benefits and continue the fight against sexual harassment and for greater inclusion and diversity.
She also got a big boost from Tom Hanks, who said in his endorsement that “the future of SAG-AFTRA is streaming. Members deserve stronger contracts, more residuals, better protections, and ending unfair exclusivity. I’m supporting Unite for Strength, Fran, Anthony, and their entire team.”
The union, with its long history of dissenting opinions, has been divided along internal party lines for decades. Today, both camps are politically progressive, with one observer likening their oft-public feuds to two groups of Democrats battling it out in a primary. And while both sides call for unity, their infighting also can be seen as the signature of a vibrant and democratic union.
Drescher and Modine both have said that they hope that the factionalism will end.
“I see reunification as one great and powerful SAG-AFTRA body as the only way to frontline for empowering and protecting members,” she told Deadline in July at the start of her campaign. “Whether it’s compensation, residuals, safety protections, enforcement, protections from harassment, legislative advocacy, increasing work opportunities, working with our sister organizations in the industry, expanding work opportunities and making sure our contracts stay ahead of technological changes—as the vanguard of the industry, united we stand.”
Modine said recently that if elected, he’d work to “eliminate those factions, to bring people together, to erase the aisle so that you don’t have to reach across the aisle, and change that philosophical difference in the room and remind people who they’re working for – they’re working for the members.”
But this year’s national election has been particularly acrimonious, with Drescher claiming that Modine’s MembershipFirst slate “think it’s okay to violate the law and that the rules don’t apply to them.” Modine called the claim false and defamatory, and threatened to sue if she didn’t apologize in 24 hours. She didn’t, and so far, he hasn’t sued.
Those allegations stem from an interview Fisher gave to KTLA’s Sam Rubin on Aug. 4, and KTLA’s subsequent refusal to provide “equal access” to the other side. Rubin, a candidate for a seat on the union’s L.A. Local board on the MembershipFirst slate, provided full disclosure on-air before he interviewed her. “A quick note here before we get to our guests,” he told the viewing audience. “The union that represents all the faces you see on camera here at KTLA is the Screen Actors Guild – SAG-AFTRA. As a practical matter, SAG-AFTRA represents almost all of the faces you see on newscasts, TV shows, streaming shows, movies, right now big elections taking place. There are two factions essentially competing against one another – Unite for Strength and MembershipFirst. I’m a candidate for board seat as part of the MembershipFirst ticket. I want you to be aware of that, and as I’m doing, set that aside. Candidates from both groups very much welcome on our show here.”
During the interview, Fisher blasted the union’s current leadership and the candidacies of her opponents. “Almost exactly a year ago,” she told Rubin, “we talked about this contract that was being negotiated and we felt that there might’ve been some – nefariousness amongst the…what was happening in the boardroom and the negotiations. And then, a couple of weeks later, 12,000 members lost healthcare, including 8,200 seniors. And in the negotiations, they said that $54 million was being added to the healthcare plan, but they didn’t say – dot dot dot – that isn’t enough in two weeks it’s going to implode.
“So that’s one thing that we’re running on, Membership First. I’m running with Matthew Modine as president – myself as national secretary-treasurer. And we have a diverse, talented, passionate, and determined group of unionists on our slate.
“And we are the agents of change. It’s interesting that the other side has adopted the the word ‘change’ in some of their materials, but it is sort of, in our opinion, the same old, same old, because they are the slate that is responsible for what happened in the past three negotiations. It’s also interesting that our current president and secretary-treasurer are jumping ship. They are not seeking reelection and have passed the baton, or at least backed and supported, two fresh faces: two talented people; two accomplished people who have never stepped foot in our boardroom, or maybe even in the building that we have on Wilshire that we don’t own. So we, we are the agents of change.”
A few days later, Rubin interviewed another MembershipFirst candidate, Sheryl Lee Ralph, who is running for vice president of the L.A. Local and for seats on the local and national boards of directors.
Camryn Manheim, SAG-AFTRA’s national secretary-treasurer, and nine other members of Unite for Strength, filed an election campaign violation complaint against Modine, Fisher, Rubin and their MembershipFirst opposition party.
The complaint, filed with the union’s national election committee, alleged that Rubin’s interview with Fisher on his morning news show amounted to an “unlawful employer contribution” from KTLA to MembershipFirst, and a violation to the union’s rules and the federal government’s Labor-Management Reporting Disclosure Act. The alleged violation, they claimed, was so egregious that it could lead to a re-run of the election, and that KTLA could be on the hook for its cost – hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The election committee agreed, and urged the local news station to provide “equal access” to candidates running on Drescher’s slate or risk causing a re-run of the election – which now appears unlikely.