Showbizreporting's Blog

September 25, 2009

SAG Election Results are in!

SAG elects Ken Howard president
Amy Aquino chosen as secretary-treasurer
By Jay A. Fernandez

Sept 24, 2009, 10:24 PM ET

Updated: Sept 24, 2009, 11:10 PM ET
There are surely more conflicts to come, but the Screen Actors Guild membership on Thursday night settled a big one: Ken Howard has been elected the union’s new national president.

Running mate Amy Aquino beat two-time incumbent Connie Stevens in the race for secretary-treasurer. Howard and Aquino will serve two-year terms beginning Friday.

For the moment, at least, the outcomes indicate that a winning 47.2% of the voting segment of SAG’s roughly 120,000 members prefers the less strident approach of the self-styled moderate wing of the party represented by Unite for Strength.

Howard collected 12,895 votes, or 3,989 more than MembershipFirst candidate Anne-Marie Johnson, who received 32.6% of the 27,295 votes cast. Independents Seymour Cassel and Asmar Muhammad garnered 17.7% and 1.5%, respectively, in their bid for the presidency.

UFS came together last year in opposition and in January led a boardroom coup at SAG, installed new negotiators and salvaged a deal with Hollywood producers nearly a year after sister union AFTRA had ratified its own contract. Johnson is part of a separate coalition, Membership First, that was shunted to the board’s minority and saw its leader, president Alan Rosenberg, muzzled on most official guild business.

Howard, who picked up an acting Emmy on Sunday for his role in HBO’s “Grey Gardens,” campaigned on bringing a more collaborative approach to relationships with AFTRA, the DGA and WGA. Segments of those groups were alienated by the often-heated rhetoric of Rosenberg and 1st national vp Johnson.

“I campaigned on the promise that I’d do everything in my power to strengthen our position at the bargaining table by building a greater unity with AFTRA and the other entertainment unions, and that’s exactly what I intend to do,” Howard said. “Despite the sharp differences that those of us active in guild affairs sometimes have over strategy and tactics, we need to continually remind ourselves that we’re all on the same team, fighting for the same thing — and by pulling together, we’ll only grow stronger.”

UFS expanded the narrow majority it established on the 71-member national board in the September 2008 elections. The next Hollywood board meeting with newly seated members is scheduled for Oct. 5.

In concert with the national result, Mike Hodge was elected president of SAG’s New York branch, succeeding Sam Freed, who passed the moderate baton to his fellow United Screen Actors Nationwide member.

Hodge defeated Mitchell Green, a SAGNOW partisan affiliated with the more hard-line MembershipFirst faction. USAN, which is affiliated with UFS, has dominated SAG politics in New York in the recent past.

The results seem to reflect an industrywide fatigue resulting from the 2007-08 writers strike and the protracted SAG contract negotiations that ended in June. Last week, the WGA elected John Wells to the top slot over the more hard-line Writers United candidate Elias Davis. The rest of the WGA officers, however, were split with Writers United.

Among the immediate challenges facing Howard are retention of coverage of network pilots and the next round of negotiations for a new TV-theatrical contract. As part of the last deal, SAG agreed to start seven weeks of bargaining with the AMPTP as early as October 2010.

Additionally, the shifting economic and labor landscape has resulted in a looming decrease in benefits and increase in premiums beginning in January as a result of investment losses and decreased employer contributions. The damaged pension and health benefits situation became a political hot potato during the campaign.

Mending fences with sister unions DGA, WGA and AFTRA is a high priority for Howard as well. AFTRA members re-elected Roberta Reardon to the presidency in early August. As a UFS candidate, Howard preached the benefit of a collective approach with AFTRA and its roughly 70,000 members in negotiations with the studios and networks, an approach that was abandoned by the previous SAG regime.

The presence of Cassel in the election surely cost Johnson some votes, since he also remains a stalwart MembershipFirst partisan. Cassel narrowly lost to Rosenberg in the 2007 election, but he was dinged by an internal sexual harassment case against him that became public during this most recent campaign.

The National Board members elected Thursday will assume office Friday for terms of three years.

SAG’s Hollywood Division elected 11 National Board members; the New York division elected four National Board members; and seven National Board members were elected from the union’s branches in Chicago, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Philadelphia, Portland and San Diego.

National Board members elected from the Hollywood Division in addition to Sheen, Harris, Johnson, Stevens and Ladd were Elliott Gould, Ed Asner, Dule Hill, Hill Harper, Nancy Travis and Marcia Wallace (all three-year terms).

The following were elected to serve as National Board alternates and to the Hollywood division board (all one-year terms): Rosenberg, Gabrielle Carteris, Jenny O’Hara, Michael O’Keefe, Clyde Kusatsu, Dawnn Lewis, Doug Savant, Michelle Allsopp, D.W. Moffett, Joe Bologna, Robert Hays, Jason George, L. Scott Caldwell, Clark Gregg, Patrick Fabian, Bill Smitrovich, Ellen Crawford, Stacey Travis, Mandy Steckelberg, Renee Taylor, Bernie Casey and John Carroll Lynch.

National Board members elected from the New York division: Freed, Sharon Washington, Monica Trombetta and Liz Zazzi (all three-year terms).

The following were elected to serve as national board alternates and to the New York division board of directors (all one-year terms): Manny Alfaro, Sheila Head, Marc Baron, Joe Narciso, Jay Potter, Dave Bachman, John Rothman, Kevin Scullin and Justin Barrett.

National Board members elected from the Regional Branch division, all with three-year terms: John Carter Brown (Chicago), David Hartley-Margolin (Colorado), Dave Corey (Florida), Scott Rogers (Hawaii), Helen McNutt (Philadelphia), Mary McDonald-Lewis (Portland) and Don Ahles (San Diego).

Ballots for all eligible SAG members in Hollywood and New York were mailed on Aug. 25.

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August 17, 2009

Tonight’s Meeting

Date: Monday 8/17/2009

The hurried-up National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting will take place tomorrow, Monday, in a videoconference gathering ostensibly to ratify the animatiion and basic cable contracts.

Although the ostensible reason for the NEC meeting is to ratify those contracts, apparently, the real reason for the rush is to address the appeal of “Member Unbecoming” findings of a SAG trial board–which result in a suspension which would disallow SAG Presidential announced candidate Seymour Cassel from being on the Presidential ballot.

Now, the Ol’ Dog has labeled this whole unfortunate affair as “Rubberband Gate” because the primary charge involves a couple of female staff members who where the target of rubberbands, allegedly propelled into their derrieres. It all seems a little trivial, in light of the firestorm it will be sure to engender. (Of course, one may feel differently if it was their backside.)

The reason, I say it will start a firestorm, is because I have been assured that Seymour fully intends to take this to federal court if his appeal is denied. And since this involves an election and some questionable practices by senior SAG staff, it could result in a Federal involvement in this election.

You see, when politically motivated charges were brought against a SAG board opponent several years ago, it ended up in federal court and the plaintiff won. Part of the agreement was that SAG would change the way it did business when it came to “conduct unbecoming” charges.

Well, unfortunately, SAG made no changes, which may be a tad hard to explain to the court when SAG defends its policies in regard to Seymour, who was found guilty under the same unmodified policies.

Also, the fact that Seymour was not informed of charges until he pulled his petition, is also suspicious. I was told by a source, I respect, that Seymour was indeed informed in writing of the charges before he drew his petition, but the facts do not support that. Here is a portion of the copy from SAG that Seymour received regarding the fact that charges were being brought. It supports Seymour’s contention that he was not informed of the charges until after he asked for his petition on June 25th.

Now is this drop dead proof that there is hanky-panky going on? No! But it does support Seymour’s claim that he was not informed of the charges until AFTER he received his petition to run for SAG president. And it will be something SAG Legal will have to answer to if, and when, this goes to Federal Court.

Here is a problem I have with this whole affair; In this case SAG staff, on its own, is able to bring charges unbecoming a member against a member. However, a SAG member cannot bring charges unbecoming against a staff member—but rather has to, at great expense, bring their charges in court. How about this; if these staff members have a complaint, why involve SAG, but rather use the only recourse available to a SAG member and take their complaint to court. Hey, fair is fair.

Look, we have three distinguished actors running for President; Ken Howard, Anne-Marie Johnson and Seymour Cassel, do we really need SAG Staff sticking their noses in this election. Let’s hear from the candidates, and let the membership decide who they want to be SAG president.

The fact is that there is too much political BS going on in our union; And If you don’t believe it then check this post for an update later to understand how politics in the branches is being used to deny a qualified SAG member and well established actor from running for the SAG board.

July 24, 2009

More candidates

Cassel to Run for SAG President as Independent
Seymour Cassel, a national board member for SAG and 50-year acting veteran who nearly upset Alan Rosenberg for the guild’s national presidency two years ago, told Back Stage that he will seek the office again, as an independent, making it at least a three-person race for the union’s highest elected office.

Additionally, Anne-Marie Johnson, the first vice president and spokeswoman for MembershipFirst, SAG’s hard-line faction, will also seek the presidency, two guild sources have stated. Johnson told Back Stage Thursday that her party’s slate of candidates would be announced Sunday and that she would neither confirm nor deny anything until then.

Indications are that Rosenberg will not seek a third term, even though he indicated in early June that he would.

Cassel and Johnson will vie for the presidency against Ken Howard, the choice of Unite for Strength, a Hollywood-based faction that is part of SAG’s moderate wing. Howard announced his candidacy yesterday <http://backstage.blogs.com/espresso/2009/07/ken-howard-to-run-for-sag-president-on-ufs-slate.html> , the day election petitions were due to be filed with the guild.

In speaking with Back Stage, Cassel said, “The guild has gone astray….. If you’ve paid any attention you’ve seen what’s happened. I as an actor am just not pleased with it. Not for myself, not for other actors.”

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