Camryn Manheim, SAG-AFTRA’s national secretary-treasurer, and nine other members of her Unite for Strength ruling party have filed an election campaign violation complaint against Matthew Modine, Joely Fisher, Sam Rubin and their MembershipFirst opposition party.
The complaint, filed with the union’s national election committee, alleges that Rubin’s interview with Fisher on his Aug. 4 KTLA 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 say, 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.
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KTLA says that it “is in the process of performing a thorough investigation” into the matter, but has denied a request for “equal time” for Unite for Strength candidates.
Robert Allen, attorney for MembershipFirst, called the complaint “meritless,” scoffing at the notion that Rubin or anyone else had done anything wrong. “This is what he does for a living – he interviews people. That is the ordinary business practice of this show. He offered to interview people from the other faction, and they never took him up on the offer. It’s not a violation of the Labor Code for a newsperson to interview a candidate running in a union election, so long as they offer equal time to other candidates.
“News programs have the First Amendment right to interview people of public interest, including those who may be running for union office,” he said. “The Labor Code was never meant to disallow the fair reporting of candidates’ positions where all candidates are offered access to express their views. This complaint shows their weakness and fear that if the truth gets out, they will surely lose this election.”
A Unite for Strength official, however, said that no one from the show ever reached out to them – even though Rubin had offered them equal time on-air before he interviewed Fisher. “We were never contacted,” the UFS official said.
The complaint filed with the union’s election committee says that “On the morning of Aug 4, 2021, L.A. local board candidate Sam Rubin, who hosts a morning show on KTLA, invited SAG-AFTRA secretary-treasurer candidate Joely Fisher on his show with the express purpose of promoting her candidacy and the presidential candidacy of Matthew Modine. KTLA’s market profile is a population of approximately 19 million and 5.145 million television households as reported by Nielsen Media. This protest is focused on the systematic violations of the rules and the LMRDA by Matthew Modine, Joely Fisher and MembershipFirst.
“The content of the Rubin’s program both explicitly promoted the Modine/Fisher candidacies, the Membership First candidates and platform, as well as Rubin himself, and denigrated the leadership of the incumbents who are running for office.
“KTLA is an employer under Article IV.B of the Nomination and Election Policy and Section 401g of the LMRDA. As such, the use of its personnel, facilities, air time and other resources to promote the candidacies of Modine, Fisher and Rubin violates Section IV.B of the Election Policy and Section 401g of the LMRDA.
“Due to this patently unlawful conduct which could result in a re-run election if the Modine/Fisher slate wins the election, Unite for Strength retained counsel who, in turn, wrote KTLA to demand that they take appropriate action.”
Bob Giolito, attorney for Unite for Strength, emailed KTLA attorney Geoff Gilbert on Aug. 5. “As you may be aware,” he wrote, “one of your employees, Sam Rubin, is currently running for election to the board of the Los Angeles Local of SAG-AFTRA as part of the so-called ‘Membership First’ slate/campaign. Yesterday morning, Mr. Rubin used KTLA5 news airtime to promote his own personal candidacy for office in SAG-AFTRA, and also brought on and interviewed two other candidates affiliated with his political slate who are running for national President and Secretary-Treasurer of SAG AFTRA, Matthew Modine and Joely Fisher, to promote their candidacies and campaign on their behalf as well.”
In fact, Modine was not interviewed on the show.
“It is highly improper, unethical, and inappropriate for Mr. Rubin to abuse his position in this manner, and I presume it is a violation of KTLA5’s policies for on-air personnel to use airtime to advance their personal and other candidates’ political campaigns,” Gilito continued. “Most importantly, because it involves a union election governed by federal law, it also constitutes illegal intervention by an employer in a union election in violation of Sec. 401(g) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. The U.S. Department of Labor has made clear that under this statute, employers are prohibited from contributing ‘any costs incurred by an employer, or anything of value contributed by an employer, in order to support the candidacy of any individual in an election.’ This includes personnel, facilities, equipment, supplies, technology and valuable air time used to promote the candidacies of anyone running for a union office.
“The damage done to the independence of the SAG-AFTRA elections from the unlawful interference by an employer in a union election can result in the U.S. Department of Labor ordering an extremely costly and time-consuming re-run election. In order to minimize the risk of this occurring, my client demands that you take the following immediate steps to mitigate the harm caused by this outrageous and unlawful conduct by Mr. Rubin:
• Prohibit Mr. Rubin from further unlawfully misusing KTLA resources to promote his and Modine/Fisher’s candidacies by prohibiting him from making any mention whatsoever of the SAG-AFTRA elections or any candidates or campaigns involved therein that in any way involves the use of KTLA airtime, facilities, personnel, supplies, technology, or other resources of any kind.
• Broadcast a statement in substantially the following form, to be read on air in a neutral manner by another on-air talent representative of KTLA (not Mr. Rubin) at the same time of day Mr. Rubin conducted his campaign activities today.”
The UFS attorney said the statement should read like this: “On August 4, KTLA5 host Sam Rubin used airtime to promote his own personal candidacy and that of two other candidates, Matthew Modine and Joely Fisher, in the SAG-AFTRA election. This action was taken without authorization from station management and is in violation of KTLA5 policies and federal law. To remedy the situation as best as possible, KTLA5 will provide equal time and access to three other candidates. KTLA5 regrets this misconduct.”
He also called for KTLA to “Immediately invite three corresponding opposing candidates to be interviewed on KTLA5 by a neutral reporter, at the same time of day and for an equal amount of time as that used by Mr. Rubin for his own campaigning and for promoting the campaigns of Modine and Fisher.
“The urgency and time-sensitivity of your taking these steps cannot be overstated. The SAG-AFTRA elections are already underway. Ballots are in members’ hands and are being returned every day. Each day that passes without remedial measures being taken worsens the impact of this misconduct, increases the chances of the United States Department of Labor setting aside the election and ordering a rerun election, and makes it more difficult to resolve. Please note that if a rerun of this election is ordered, it will be at great cost to SAG-AFTRA and potentially those whose unlawful conduct necessitated the rerun. It is our view that in such a case where the violation is in the nature of employer interference in the election, a cause of action can be pursued against the employer for the costs associated with the rerun. I understand from my client that in this case that sum could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I urge you to take the steps listed above immediately. Please contact me to discuss KTLA5’s intentions with respect to addressing this extraordinary misconduct by Mr. Rubin.”
KTLA’s Gilbert responded on Thursday, telling UFS attorney Giolito: “Thank you again for bringing your client’s concerns to KTLA’s attention. KTLA is in the process of performing a thorough investigation into these concerns. At this time, however, KTLA is not inclined to provide your client with ‘equal air time’ inasmuch as assuming, for the sake of argument only, that the analysis set forth in your August 5, 2021 correspondence is accurate, doing so would constitute an intentional violation of the law. Please call me if you have any questions and best of luck to your client in the election.”
Rubin, who is running for a seat on the union’s L.A. Local board on the MembershipFirst slate, provided full disclosure on-air before he interviewed Fisher. “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.
Unite for Strength then filed an amended complaint with the union’s election committee, saying that “This is an amendment to our previous election challenge, demonstrating ongoing, willful, and flagrant violations. On the morning of Aug 11th, 2021, LA local board candidate Sam Rubin, who hosts a morning show on KTLA, invited Vice Presidential candidate Sheryl Lee Ralph on his show, on which she explicitly promoted her candidacy as well as Sam’s. As previously filed, KTLA is an employer under Article IV.B of the Nomination and Election Policy (the “Election Policy”) and Section 401g of the LMRDA. As such, the use of its personnel, facilities, air time and other resources to promote their candidacies violates Section IV.B of the Election Policy and Section 401g of the LMRDA. The video clip in question has been added to the original folder (Exhibit L). Also included is a response from KTLA to counsel for Unite for Strength, demonstrating their intent to not only neglect to rectify, but indeed to continue the violation (Exhibit M). In addition to the remedies listed, we urge immediate action to cease these repeated election violations.”
The complaint says that “At a minimum, the Modine slate should be ordered to refrain from continuing to accept unlawful employer contributions as it unabashedly did in the 2019 election, and to fund a Unite for Strength mailing to the LA Membership in order to cure this flagrant violation of the Election Policy, while the employers at issue shall be ordered to cease promotional activities and provide equivalent space/airtimes for Unite for Strength.”
In 2019, a re-run of a local election in New Orleans was ordered after the local’s election committee found that the NOLA Slate for Change candidates had accepted ‘unlawful contributions’ from employers at a campaign event held on June 29 — a charge they hotly disputed. Modine, who finished second to Gabrielle Carteris that year in the race for president, had attended the event and was endorsed by the NOLA Slate for Change. The New Orleans local was a stronghold for Modine, but all the winning candidates there who supported him had to re-run their elections, but won anyway.
In June, as it does before every election, the union’s national election committee issued a statement that said, “Federal law prohibits any employer, including employers who are agents, managers, casting directors or producers, from contributing anything of value to any candidate for SAG-AFTRA elected office.”
The latest election complaint also alleges that “In a similarly flagrant violation of the Election Policy and the LMRDA, ElevenFilms, another employer, has repeatedly posted social media endorsements of the Modine/Fisher slate, urging an incalculable number of members to vote for this slate in the upcoming election. Copies of each of the 74 individual tweets are attached (Exhibit H). ElevenFilms also prepared a Modine/Fisher Membership First campaign video (Exhibit I), which contained numerous movie clips that were not properly paid for. We believe that this video production was donated to the Modine/Fisher campaign—another unlawful employer contribution. Eleven Films also donated money to the Modine/Fisher campaign Go Fund Me (Exhibit J).”
In addition to Manheim, who is running for a seat on the national board, the other complainants include: national vice presidents William Charlton and Clyde Kusatsu; and national board members Ben Whitehair and Jenny O’Hara, and local board members Woody Schultz, Ellen Crawford and Rob Archer, as well as Armand Vasquez and Jen Levin, who are running for seats on the local board.
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