SAG-AFTRA Party Politics Challenged In Dispute Over Board Replacements

It’s politics as usual at SAG-AFTRA in the wake of the union’s recent election, with several top vote-getters stepping down from their national and local board seats and handing them over to members of their own political faction.

What’s not usual, however, is that this year a complaint has been filed alleging cronyism and election fraud. The complaint was filed with the union by Peter Antico, who finished third in the race for president. Esai Morales, who finished second, has vowed to file a similar complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The union has been deeply divided for years between two factions: Unite for Strength, the current ruling party that supported the 2012 merger of SAG and AFTRA, and Membership First, the minority party that opposed the merger but made a strong showing in the August election.

The two factions have been bickering for years about the best way to name permanent board replacements, with the ruling party usually advocating for the right of resigning board members to name their own replacements, and the out-of-power party usually arguing that it would be more democratic for replacements to be chosen from the ranks of the next-highest vote-getters. This year, the two highest non-winners for the national board were both members of Membership First, with one of them, who received 3,999 votes, falling just eight votes shy of winning a seat on the national board. Neither of them, however, was chosen as a board replacement.

Prior to the election, every candidate signed a “consent to serve” form, which states that once the nominating period had closed, “a candidate may not revoke his or her consent to serve.” The union’s rules, however, allow them to resign after they’ve been elected  and requires newly elected national officers to give up their national board seats.

But Antico and Morales see a more sinister motive to the recent wave of local board resignations, questioning whether several Unite for Strength candidates truly intended to serve if elected, or were just stalking horses for their less famous, un-electable running mates.

Gabrielle Carteris

Gabrielle Carteris, who was elected president on the Unite for Strength slate, has given up her national board seat – as she was required to do – and her local board seat – as she chose to do – to Unite for Strength co-founder William Charlton, who didn’t even run for the national board and finished a distant 76th in the local board race, from which only the top 41 vote-getters were elected. Per union rules, Carteris was able to choose him to replace her on the national board because he did win something in the recent election; he was one of the Los Angeles local’s 141 delegates elected to attend this weekend’s biennial convention, finishing 135th.

Likewise, Jane Austin, who was re-elected secretary-treasurer on the Membership First ticket, gave up her national board seat – as she was required to do – to Joe d’Angerio, who didn’t even run for the national board and finished a distant 70th in the local’s board race but won election as a convention delegate, finishing 61st.

Prior to the election, Morales put Carteris on notice that he would file a complaint with the DOL if she gave up her local board seat “to allow for another unelected Unite for Strength person to sit in the L.A. local boardroom. This must be called what it is: election fraud.” No such complaint has been filed, but sources say it’s in the works.

Antico, however, already has filed a complaint with the union, claiming that Carteris and three others – Regina King, Jon Huertas and Jason George – who gave up board seats to their unelected Unite for Strength running mates – ran “without any intention of serving in that position. These duplicitous actions seemed to be designed to use one’s celebrity status to give an unethical and unfair advantage to a political party, thus undermining the democratic process created to protect the will of the membership of SAG-AFTRA. When you run for office you must sign a consent to serve statement which all of the aforementioned candidates did. It seems that the Unite for Strength party ran high profile candidates with the intention to deceive and attain an unfair political advantage that does not reflect the will of the membership.”

The dispute has its roots in a SAG rule that once allowed the local board to name the replacement of any officer who resigned. And when Ken Howard was elected SAG president, the local board – which was then controlled by Membership First – chose Joe d’Angerio, one of its own, to replace him on the national board. That infuriated Unite for Strength, and when they gained control of the union, changed the rule to allow the winning candidate to name his or her own replacement.

Even so, there have been times when winners chose members from the opposing party as replacements, as Carteris did when she resigned her national board seat on being elected executive vice president of SAG-AFTRA, choosing David Jolliffe as her replacement, and extending an olive branch to Membership First, of which he was and is a leader.

King also has resigned her seat on the national board. She finished third in the race, just behind top vote-getters Martin Sheen and Morales, winning a four-year seat on the board. But without attending a single board meeting, she resigned and handed over her seat to fellow Unite for Strength running mate Jon Huertas, who finished 19th in the national board race – not good enough to win one of the 12 seats up for grabs.

Huertas, in turn, gave up his local board seat to a fellow Unite for Strength running mate, as did George, who won a seat on the national board (finishing sixth) and on the local board (finishing eighth), and gave up his local board seat a fellow member of Unite for Strength. They were replaced on the local board by Woody Schultz, who finished seventh out of the running, and by Ben Whitehair, who finished 27th.

And more replacements are coming to the national board if Clyde Kusatsu is reelected vice president of the Los Angeles local and Rebecca Damon is reelected national executive vice president at this weekend’s convention. They were both recently elected to the national board, and will have to give up their board seats if reelected to office at the convention. Kusatsu will be allowed to chose his own replacement, but the rules in New York require the local board there to choose Damon’s.

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