UPDATED with vote count and winners’ quotes: 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.
In a close race, Drescher defeated Modine 16,958 votes to 15,371, while Fisher beat Rapp 18,547 to 13,593. A total of 122,154 ballots were mailed and 32,362 were returned (26.49%). Turnout this year was considerably higher than two years ago, when only 21.2% of the members voted.
Fisher, the daughter of former SAG secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens, amassed nearly 1,600 more votes than Drescher.
Drescher said in a statement Thursday night:
“I am honored to serve my union in this capacity,” Drescher said in a statement. “Together we will navigate through these troubled times of global health crisis and together we will rise up out of the melee to do what we do best, entertain and inform. We must never forget the important contribution we make to many millions of people each and every day when they buy a ticket to sit in a dark theater or turn on their TVs or streaming devices.
“Our chosen professions within the SAG-AFTRA membership have literally gotten Americans to laugh, to learn, to momentarily escape that we are all in a pandemic. We members serve an invaluable purpose in the grand scheme of things. We must never forget who we are and what unites us as one union.
“Today marks the beginning of a fresh start, let us forge forward in a holistic and non-partisan ascension towards the precipice of a new dawn. Only as a united front will we have strength against the real opposition in order to achieve what we all want: more benefits, stronger contracts and better protections. Let us lock elbows and together show up with strength at the negotiating table! If you voted for my opponent, I want you to know we were never far apart in our objectives. I promise you, if you give me the chance, I will listen to you and fight like hell to give you what you have been wanting. And may we all continue to shine a light on all the worried viewers across the nation and around the world with our talents.
Said Fisher in a statement:
“To our members, I want to thank you for your vote of confidence. I look forward to getting us back to solid financial footing and to be a part of strong negotiations moving forward,” said Fisher. “It is bittersweet that my running mate, Matthew Modine, won’t be by my side, but I will work to uphold our vision of bettering our union. I will hold Fran Drescher to her promise to us to protect the members and put more money in our pockets through stronger contract negotiations.
“Again, I want to thank you for entrusting me with the stewardship of this union. Let’s get to work to bridge the divide and make the lives of our sisters and brothers in our SAG-AFTRA union family better.”
This is the third split-ticket vote since SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012 and the first since 2017, when Unite for Strength’s Gabrielle 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.
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.”
SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland congratulated Drescher and Fisher on their elections Thursday night. “I look forward to working closely with Fran Drescher and Joely Fisher as they assume their positions at such a critical moment in our union’s storied history,” he said. “We have an extensive agenda to pursue on behalf of our members and, with President Drescher, Secretary-Treasurer Fisher, the rest of our National Board and a deeply talented team of local leaders, I am confident we will marshal the energy, initiative and focus to improve the lives of SAG-AFTRA’s membership.”
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.
SAG-AFTRA’s competing interests also played out in local races around the country, none more prominently than in New York and Los Angeles. Several locals, however, were strictly nonpartisan and sent independent candidates to the national board, on which Unite for Strength and its USAN New York affiliate will retain a large majority after tonight’s election.
In New York, Ezra Knight was elected local president. Knight, a USAN leader, praised “a resounding USAN victory in New York,” adding, “I’m humbled, but also inspired by the affirmation shown by the New York membership for me and the USAN team and want to thank each and every person who voted in this important election. Let’s move forward together.”
His four winning vice presidential running mates – Linda Powell, Jim Kerr, Liz Zazzi and Jay Potter – also were elected to the national board representing actors, with Rosie O’Donnell garnering the most votes. Others elected to the national board in New York were Josh Charles, Michael Gaston and Traci Godfrey.
Billy Porter, who was backed by MembershipFirst, was elected to the national board representing singers, dancers and recording artists.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.