Serious questions are being raised about the validity of uncontested elections held recently in SAG-AFTRA locals nationwide. To date, eight locals — Atlanta, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, Hawaii, the Twin Cities, Arizona-Utah and the Missouri Valley — have held elections in which the winners were decided “without the necessity of a membership vote.” At issue is whether members of those locals were given “reasonable notice” that elections were being held so they could run for office.
In Atlanta, the stunt community is rallying around six local stunt performers who are calling for a rerun of the election there, saying they were shut out of the process because they had not been given reasonable notice that an election was being held. They tried to file petitions to run for office but were told they’d missed a June 19 deadline by a few days. They now are vowing to take the matter to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“We all had issue with this because we hadn’t even known that the Atlanta local was open for election submissions, much less that the cutoff was a week before the other areas,” said an Atlanta stuntwoman who wanted to run. “Those of us hoping to run asked if there was an appeals process since we’d never been notified, but all requests were ignored.” On Thursday, the local said it would take the matter up after the national elections were held.
The local says a “flier” was mailed to each of its members notifying them about the election schedule, but dozens of the local’s members say they never received one.
None of the eight locals that have held uncontested elections posted anything on their websites about the pending elections until they were over, when the names of the unopposed winners were posted. None of the locals sent emails to their members notifying them of the pending elections, either. Instead, SAG-AFTRA relied on Integrity Voting Systems to mail a flier to local members informing them about the upcoming elections and what steps they could take to run for office. “It was sent by ‘snail mail’ from Integrity Voting Systems,” a SAG-AFTRA official told Deadline.
A spokesman for Integrity Voting Systems declined comment. “We can’t comment on the election at all,” he said.
SAG-AFTRA gave Integrity Voting Systems the names and addresses of tens of thousands of its members so that it could mail them the election material, but if members moved and the union doesn’t have their current addresses, the fliers, in many cases, never would have reached them. And considering the fact that SAG-AFTRA still can’t even locate Bradley Cooper, Michael Douglas, Jodie Foster, Steve Martin, James Franco and hundreds of other stars who are owed claimed residuals but don’t have current contact information listed with the guild, there’s no telling how many thousands of lesser-known members the union doesn’t have current mailing addresses for.
The law allows unions various means to give their members “reasonable notice” of pending elections, including email and union newsletters, but SAG-AFTRA opted for “snail mail” instead. “Today, we were emailed the election results,” the Atlanta stuntwoman said on Tuesday. “Why can they reach us be email for the results but not give us email notice about upcoming elections?”
Said an Atlanta stuntman who wanted to run but said he didn’t receive the flier: “It’s totally wrong. We’re in the 21st century. It should be fairly easy to find us.”
Lack of “reasonable notice” of union elections is expressly prohibited by the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which states that “a union must give reasonable notice of the offices to be filled by election; the date and time for submitting nominations; the place for submitting nominations, and the proper form for submitting nominations.” Clearly, the intent of the law is for unions to attempt to reach all of their members and notify them of pending elections, and the U.S. mail is listed as a method for reasonable notification. But if Atlanta is any example, the system has failed.
“After lots of talk amongst the smaller group of us, we posted the question to the larger Atlanta stunt community,” the Atlanta stuntwoman told Deadline. “Out of everyone who read and responded, over 50 stunt players reported never having received an election notice of any kind. Just those numbers should indicate a problem. After much discussion, we all contacted the governance board asking to file a grievance.”
Dozens of guild members in Atlanta have subsequently sent emails to the local protesting the election and the lack of notification. “I was not provided with due notice, which is a violation of federal and state labor laws as well as SAG/AFTRA election rules, and neither were my peers here locally,” said one of the emails obtained by Deadline. “It is especially interesting to receive an email reflecting the results of the election and yet no similar email was ever sent regarding participating in said election. If this election is not re-run with the opportunities afforded to us in the bylaws of the constitution and the election rules of SAG/AFTRA, we plan to file formal complaints with the Department of Labor.”
Their cause now has been taken up by SAG-AFTRA national board member Jane Austin, a stuntwoman who’s running for President of the Los Angeles local and is the running mate of Patricia Richardson, who’s challenging Ken Howard for President of the guild. “It’s unfortunate that the union couldn’t properly notify these members who want to participate and run for spots on the local and national board and as convention delegates,” she told Deadline. “Rerunning the election is the right thing to do.”
Austin, who says she plans to raise the issue at this Saturday’s national board meeting in Los Angeles, said that SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White “has mentioned that there is so much apathy with our members and that we need to do more to get more members involved and to vote in our elections. But if we’re not notifying our members that there are opportunities for them to run for these positions, what does he expect?”
Unlike members of the guild’s outlying locals, SAG-AFTRA members in Los Angeles and New York were given plenty of notice about their pending elections. In May, the guild sent its latest magazine to every paid-up member in the country that contained detailed information about the upcoming elections, including three pages about the ongoing national election and the schedule and deadlines for elections in Los Angeles and New York. Only a single sentence at the very end of the three pages, however, mentioned anything about the other local elections. “If you are interested in running for the position of national board member, local officer, local board member or convention delegate representing your local area,” it said, “please contact your nearest local office for complete election eligibility and schedule information.”
The offices of half of the eight locals that held uncontested elections – including the ones in Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico and the Twin Cities – have been closed since 2013, when SAG-AFTRA went through a major restructuring, but their members still get to vote for, and run for, local offices and for seats on the union’s national board.