More Tempers Flare At SAG-AFTRA Contract Meeting In New York

UPDATED with video of board candidate Pat Walsh telling his side of story, below: There was more heated opposition to SAG-AFTRA’s new film and TV contract at an informational meeting yesterday in New York, with opposing board candidates nearly coming to blows, according to multiple sources. The rare intersection of the contract vote and the union’s election season also created a tense situation at Sunday’s informational meeting in Burbank, and also at today’s meeting in Atlanta.

As Deadline reported yesterday, tempers flared in Burbank on Sunday when presidential candidate Esai Morales tried to speak out against the contract and a security guard attempted to wrestle the microphone away from him. Video of that meeting shows Morales accusing the guild’s leaders of “electioneering” at a meeting to discuss the new contract.

The union, meanwhile, is warning talent agents, managers, casting directors and employers that they can’t contribute in any way to the campaigns of any candidate for union office.

On Monday, two opposing board candidates nearly came to blows in the hallway outside the meeting room in New York. During the Q&A period, SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who chaired the meeting, reprimanded Pat Walsh for mentioning he was running for the national board. The meeting, she told him, was to discuss the contract, not to campaign for office. Walsh apologized, saying he was unaware of the rule, and proceeded to make his points about the contact’s shortcomings and the impact new technology was having – both good and bad – on the industry.

Board member Rick Zahn was next to speak, and began by praising the leadership of Carteris and national executive director David White. “He was stroking these guys, so I jumped up and said this is electioneering,” Walsh told Deadline. “Gabrielle said I was right.” Walsh said he then accused Zahn of “being in cahoots” with the guild’s leadership, then walked to the back of the room.

Walsh, a veteran stuntman, said Zahn approached him a few minutes later. “He glared across the room and started walking towards me. He said, ‘You got a problem?’ I said, ‘No.’ He bellied up to me and grabbed my arm and said, ‘You’re coming outside with me.’ We went out into the hallway, and he said, ‘You’ve got some problems.’ I said, ‘My problem’s not with you, and if it is, you’re not half the man I am.’ He started yelling, ‘You have no idea! I’m an insider! I know what’s going on! You don’t know!’ He was pointing both fingers in my face. I said, ‘Come on, take your fingers out of my face or you’re going to end up on the ground.’ A security guard came over and told Zahn, ‘You’re being the problem. He’s being very diplomatic and nice. You’re the one being aggressive. You should watch it.’ ”

The two men eventually calmed down and talked out their differences. In the end, Walsh said, they shook hands and went back into the meeting room together.

SAG-AFTRA and Zahn did not return requests for  comment, but Walsh’s account was supported in a Facebook posting by actor Kevin Cannon, a candidate for president of the union’s New York local who was also at the meeting and saw the altercation in the hallway.

“We had some near physical drama with board member Rick Zahn, who after Pat Walsh was corrected by Carteris for saying his name and that he was running for national board,” Cannon wrote. “Zahn walks up and says nothing about the contract but only that David White and Carteris are wonderful blah blah blah and nobody advised him he was out of order, so Pat Walsh jumps up and yells, ‘Why is he allowed to self-promote the existing board and he could not even say his name and that he was running?’ I then jump up and agree this guy should be censored by the board and I walk out. Then Pat and Zahn walk out and security walks out and a rather heated argument ensues and then we calm down and walk back in.”

Cannon, a former military police officer, told Deadline he’s sure the two men would have come to blows if he and a security guard hadn’t intervened. “Zahn was shouting at him and telling him that he had to shut his mouth. His fingers were in his face. I stepped in and the security guard stepped in and the security guard said that Rick Zahn was the aggressor and that he should calm down.”

Sparks are also flying at an informational meeting being held right now in Atlanta. “In addition to police presence,” tweeted a member attending the meeting, “our local executive staff demanded (YELLING AT MEMBERS) that we cannot wear shirts that support locals running against the incumbents regardless that we are not handing out leaflets, etc….”

Union leaders say the new contract will boost performers’ income by $256 million over the next three years, but opponents say that this doesn’t factor in inflation or the union’s “give-aways.” According to a statement from national board member Robin Riker, an opposition leader, these are the seven areas in which the union’s negotiators fell short:

  • The Los Angeles Working and Wages committee made it perfectly clear that residuals for made-for basic cable and Pay Cable (HBO, SHOWTIME etc.) were a top priority.  Such work comprises 45% of current TV work. Yet this critical issue never even made it to the bargaining table.  The specious argument was made that “cable is dying…it’s in the past.”  Then why does it comprise almost half of performers’ work?  How much money was left on the table by ignoring this important source of revenue for performers?
  • Negotiators went into this negotiation to “disavow the practice of Producer’s Base,” yet instead of disavowing it, it was codified.  Now, wherever performers go in the world, they are no longer on location.  They are at Producer’s Base which invades and lowers our decades long location provisions.  A great reduction in revenue.
  • Closer to Los Angeles, the historic 30 mile zone was expanded to 40 miles meaning performers are not compensated for longer travel times.  Thousands of performers traveling thousands of extra miles at their own expense…how much lost revenue will that amount to?
  • Producers would be allowed to re-use clips of performers from one episode to another without bargaining; instead, the minimum day rate would be paid.
  • Reuse of a performers work to promote an episode of a series or the series as a whole without any limitation on the length of time the trailer may be exhibited would be free.  Producers would not have to pay a cent.  How can these losses of revenue be calculated?
  • Without first notifying the complainants, SAG-AFTRA waived and summarily dismissed untold thousands of dollars in pending claims against producers for travel violations.
  • In past contracts, shows that had been cancelled and were over 3 years old were allowed to be shown on VHF sub channels at an extremely discounted rate. In this tentative contract, shows that have justbeen cancelled from their original platforms, shows that heretofore have resulted in residuals of hundreds or thousands of dollars per performer are, in this tentative contract, being virtually given away for that same extremely discounted price.  And the deceptive language in the way this new deal is being presented leads members to believe they will be receiving $225 for a half hour show and $450 per hour show.  The truth is that $250 or $450 is split among the entire cast for the length of the 3-5 year licensed run.  Say hello to your $15.00 residual.

Riker, who attended Sunday’s meeting in Burbank, said that “The crowd, which included stunt performers, background actors and principal performers, had major complaints, yet were met with double-speak and obfuscation from Carteris, White and chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez. Dozens of written questions went unasked and therefore unanswered with the promise that ‘If your question went unaddressed, we will contact you with the answer via your email.’ Yet that method ensures that all the other union members would be left out of learning the answers.

“Despite the imposition of silence on the crowd, the members were far from it. Due to the hue and cry of the assembled who were outraged at being stifled, the dais allowed mics to be set up during the last 10 minutes of the meeting and the rush to the mics was instantaneous. Despite the fact that Carteris had the floor for the duration of the meeting and the fact that she is currently running for SAG-AFTRA president while this contract is being voted upon, she decided to cut the speakers off just before Esai Morales, Membership First’s presidential candidate, was about to address the crowd.”

Matthew Modine
Matthew Modine REX/Shutterstock

Just prior to Carteris shutting the meeting down, actor Matthew Modine addressed the crowd. “I want to thank you for doing your best with this contract,” he told the union’s leaders. Then turning to the members assembled he continued. “But I want to address the membership. We’re actors. We act together. We do not act alone. We help each other and we always work to make each other better in our work. That’s what we do. We don’t have to accept this contract put forth if it doesn’t serve each of us. Together we have a choice and if a strike is our only tool for a stronger contract, if that’s our only choice, then we can choose to strike. If we don’t like the way our representatives have represented us, then we can vote this contract down and vote those representatives out.”  

A source said the majority of the room then erupted into cheers and applause.

As the election heats up, the union’s national election committee released a statement today warning against interference by agents, managers and producers. “Federal law prohibits any employer, including employers who are agents, managers, casting directors or producers, from contributing anything of value to candidates for any SAG-AFTRA elected office,” the statement says. “If there is a Department of Labor investigation, the DOL may seek to take statements from candidates and any employers who contributed to them. Further, any such contributions may also result in that candidate’s election being overturned. This prohibition includes indirect, as well as direct, contributions. The prohibition against the use of employer money includes any costs incurred by an employer, or anything of value contributed by an employer, in order to support the candidacy of the member.”

The statement notes that “the use of an employer’s office or office equipment without charge has been construed to be an impermissible contribution by an employer. The following are examples of the application of these legal obligations to situations which commonly are confronted by candidates for union office: No employer may provide any contributions or assistance of any kind to any candidate. Thus, for example, a talent agency may not provide support to an individual’s candidacy through financial contributions, solicitations of support through emails, mailings or social media, etc. – even if the candidate did not request the support. Even forwarding campaign-related emails may be a violation of this legal obligation.

“Employees may make contributions from their personal funds only if those employees are not acting on behalf of their employer. Engaging in any of the conduct described above may jeopardize the integrity of the SAG-AFTRA election process.”

Here is a 21-minute video in which SAG-AFTRA board candidate Pat Walsh tells his side of story:

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