Atlanta’s stunt community, which was rocked last year by the death of stuntman John Bernecker on the set of The Walking Dead, is up in arms over veteran stuntwoman Jennifer Badger’s allegation that leaders of the SAG-AFTRA local there are playing politics with safety. Badger, one of Atlanta’s top stuntwomen and safety advocates, and a vocal critic of the local’s elected leadership, has accused them of not reappointing her to the stunt and safety committee purely for political reasons.
“Politics trumps safety in Atlanta,” she posted on Facebook.
It’s the second time in a month that SAG-AFTRA leaders have been accused of putting politics ahead of safety in the wake of two stunt-related deaths last year. In January, stuntman Peter Antico, a vocal critic of SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris – who himself was not reappointed to the LA local’s stunt and safety committee – accused Carteris of stacking the union’s newly formed President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety with her political supporters.
“I am the only member of Atlanta’s stunt and safety committee who has been forcibly removed despite my perfect attendance record over the two years I have served,” Badger wrote on Facebook. This snub, she wrote, came despite “it being stated and written several times that returning members get first priority to remain on board” and despite “my having followed proper protocol to stay on the committee” and “copious notes and meeting minutes showing that I have always firmly stood in support of the local and national constitutions and our contract agreements.”
A SAG-AFTRA rep told Deadline that “Jen is one of our top stunt performers” but insisted that she had not been “removed” from the committee – forcibly or otherwise – but rather was “not reappointed” after her term expired. “Everything was done per the constitution,” the rep said.
Badger, who has more than 190 stunt credits and has worked on many of the biggest films and TV shows shot in Georgia during the past 25 years, had requested to serve another term on the stunt and safety committee, but the elected leaders that she’s so often criticized chose not to invite her back.
Scott Dale, who chairs the committee, sent her an email – obtained by Deadline through a third party – that read: “Official notification to committee selectees by the Atlanta SAG-AFTRA board were sent out in January. You were not selected for a committee position for this term. I appreciate your service on the stunt and safety committee in the previous term and your continued support and advocacy for safety on set.”
Badger believes she wasn’t put back on the committee because of politics. In August, she openly opposed the re-election of local president Ric Reitz and butted heads with his supporters when she opposed ratification of the union’s new film and TV contract, which she said in a Facebook post raises safety concerns because it allows producers to work actors and stunt performers longer hours when they location in Georgia, whose tax credits have made it a major filming hub.
“Being that there are no grounds for my removal, and following the personal and professional attacks that were launched on me by our local governance during the recent elections – for which I wasn’t even a candidate – it appears that the priority in Atlanta is on politics, not safety,” she wrote.
“Power, leverage, and politics should never come at the cost of safety!” wrote stuntman Christopher Leps in a Facebook post. “Jennifer Badger has been one of the safest coordinators I’ve worked for in 25 years in this industry; always putting performer safety above all else. If she is being removed from the stunt and safety committee, then something is rotten in Denmark.”
Asked stuntwoman Rosie Bernhard on Facebook: “Who had the authority to remove you? Who has the safety record, experience, integrity, intelligence or diligence to presume they have the authority to remove one of Georgia’s greatest resources and advocate for stunt and set safety?!?! I am outraged.”
Wrote stuntwoman Marian Sing: “I don’t get it! Why would they dis-include a coordinator who has such extensive knowledge of our contract and who has always gone the extra mile for ensuring the safety and welfare of the stunt community???”
Stuntman Duke Jackson wrote: “If we can protest this, please let us know. This is unacceptable.”
Wrote stuntman Noah Bain Garret: “If people don’t feel that they need to worry about this, they’re wrong. This could happen to anyone of us that is trying to stand up to share our concerns with the union.”
Others rising to her defense on Facebook include stuntman Ronny Mathew, who asked: “Who do we bombard to correct this? Completely unacceptable for people that are supposed to represent us.”
Wrote stuntwoman Sarah Reagin Clemmensen, a former member of the local’s stunt and safety committee: “This is wrong and incredibly disappointing. I have seen more dedication to the safety and wellbeing of our community from you than I have from anyone else on the committee. You attended every meeting last term, even via phone conference when you were working on set. I applaud your courage and standing up for what is right.”
Wrote stuntwoman Casey Ann Zeller. “ou have always been a great spoke person and advocate for safety as well as a resource for many up and coming stunt performers,” Why on earth would you be forcibly removed?”
Stuntman John Dixon opined that Badger had been removed from the committee for the “same reason they removed some people in California on that committee. They don’t want people who actually know what they are doing on the committee. Period.”
“Wow. That’s is some serious horse 💩,” wrote stuntman Casey Hendershot. “Sorry to hear this Jennifer. Who would be best to contact to voice our opposition to you being removed?”
Deadline reached out to Badger after finding her comments – and those of her supporters – on various social media platforms, but she declined to comment at this time.
Badger’s opposition to Reitz’ re-election first became public last August after he was featured in a Deadline article, which explored a brokerage firm that he and Wilbur Fitzgerald, his business partner and local board member, run that helps companies obtain Georgia’s lucrative film tax credits.
The story noted that he often advises low-budget producers to “goose” their budgets to qualify for Georgia tax incentives and that he brags about having a “magic formula” that he tells producers about so that they can hire struggling actors on the cheap – by lowballing them with salary offers just high enough so that they can qualify for union health benefits. On a local podcast, he also said he’s told producers that it’s sometimes OK to ignore the union’s rules on meal penalties – fines producers have to pay actors when meal breaks, taken every six hours, are late – and that he “hates” actors who insist on following the union’s contract to the letter of the law.
“I hate those people. I don’t even want them in the union,” he said on the podcast. “I don’t care if the union is listening.”
Badger, who supported Reitz’s opponent in last year’s local election, posted a comment on the Deadline article, saying: “If Mr. Reitz is going to make comments such as telling producers to ‘goose the numbers’ or ‘reconcile the books’ so as to be eligible for tax credits, then perhaps he ought to stick with producing and the brokerage firm – which he has every right to own and succeed at. At the same time, if he is going to brag about waiving contract rules while saying that he ‘hates’ members who adhere to them or if he is going to tell producers how to get actors to work for less by banking on their need to provide insurance for their family, he shouldn’t be in a position of governance at SAG-AFTRA. There just isn’t an excuse for that.”
She also commented that during the election campaign, Reitz, Fitzgerald and their supporters have been “slandering, committing libel, attacking members personally and professionally, bullying, throwing childish antics, and creating campaigns of fear mongering trying to tell the membership that if they are not reelected, the tax incentives will go away and everyone will be unemployed. It is pathetic and amazing at the same time. At least the members are seeing what they are really like.”
Fitzgerald, an actor and attorney who won election to local’s board, accused her on Facebook of being “bought and paid for by some folks in Los Angeles,” claiming that “without the leadership of Ric Reitz, she and thousands of others would be roaming the crowded streets of California looking for a job.”
“Really, Wilbur T. Fitzgerald?” she responded. “Another personal attack to join the many others from your group?”
At a raucous membership meeting in July, she and others in the Atlanta stunt community spoke out against ratification of the union’s new film and TV contract, claiming on Facebook that it shortchanged actors and stunt performers by giving away so-called “portal to portal” travel pay, in which performers on location are paid from the time they are picked up at their hotels each morning until the time they are returned.
Debra Nelson, a member of Reitz’s slate who was re-elected to the union’s local and national boards, responded on Facebook that Badger doesn’t know what she’s talking about. “Hopefully, you attended tonight’s membership meeting and learned that portal-to-portal was not given away because it never existed for stunts in the old contract. If someone had portal-to-portal, it was because they bargained for it as part of their over-scale negotiations.”
In December 2014, however, when the union’s prior film and TV contract was still in force, the union posted on its website: “All travel provisions related to the issue commonly known as ‘portal-to-portal’ remain in effect as always, and did not change during our recent negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers or with the television networks. It’s important that you know that producers may not unilaterally rewrite these rules. SAG-AFTRA intends to vigorously defend this contract provision using all means available. We are addressing this matter directly with the studios to ensure the proper administration of this provision in our agreement.”
Nelson, using the #stopthebadgering hashtag that mocked Badger’s name, also accused her on Facebook of “badgering” the local’s staff and of “mudslinging and calling people names,” even though Facebook postings show that Badger reached out repeatedly to Nelson to discuss the issues in a civil and respectful manner.
In a complaint against Nelson filed with the union last year, Badger wrote: “I have been personally and professionally attacked by not only another member but my own local and national representative and have made every attempt to politely address and resolve the issue to no avail. If Ms. Nelson were just another member, it would be easier to shrug off, but if our representatives are allowed to slander and openly discredit members and potentially affect their careers – blacklisting and undermining them – then this is not a union that protects its members in any way.”
The complaint added, “I think something as minimal as a public apology for inaccurate statements against my person at a time when emotions were high might be all that is needed to settle the matter.”
She never got the apology, and then was not invited to return to serve on the stunt and safety committee.