The SAG-AFTRA local in Atlanta is offering its members an election do-over: If they’ve already cast their ballots for board candidates, they can vote again for different candidates.
The unusual move comes after the local’s ruling faction, Union Strong Atlanta (USA), received an unfair and potentially illegal advantage from a local talent agency and from an acting workshop, which had posted campaign materials and promoted the Union Strong slate on their Facebook pages.
Prior to ballots being mailed last month, SAG-AFTRA’s national election committee informed employers and agents that “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. 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.”
Those labor laws subsequently were violated when Atlanta Models & Talent, a local talent agency, and Compass Actors Services, which offers workshops, coaching and audition taping, posted campaign materials promoting the USA slate, which is aligned with SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris’ Unite for Strength slate.
After independent board candidates complained, the Atlanta local’s election committee requested that the postings be immediately removed and that all candidates not affiliated with the USA slate “be allowed to post campaign material on the pages for an equal amount of time.”
“We took the posts down,” said a rep for Atlanta Models & Talent, which bills itself as “Atlanta’s premier full-service talent agency” and represents eight USA candidates: Ric Reitz, the local’s longtime president, who’s stepping down and running for the local board; Clayton Landey, who will be the local’s next president by virtue of running unopposed; Debra Nelson, a candidate for the national board; and local board candidates Mike Pniewski, Jon Hayden, Doug Kaye, Ray Benitez, and Adena Brumer.
The independent candidates, however, flatly refused to accept the local election committee’s “equal-time” solution, arguing that posting their campaign materials on the companies’ Facebook pages would be just as illegal, and that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“The members of the USA slate violated not only our election rules, but from what I can tell…federal labor law as well,” independent local board candidate David Brian Martin said in an email to the local’s election committee. “I find this incredibly unbelievable, as they are incumbents and certainly know what the rules are.
“What bothers me most,” he wrote in his email, which was also addressed to Melissa Goodman, the local’s executive director, “is that your solution is to have us to break the law too. Fight a crime by committing the same crime? For over 25 years as a member I’ve tried to go above and beyond to work with integrity and be an upstanding member of our union. Now you all are actually encouraging me to break the union regulations?! Furthermore, I don’t want to even risk breaking federal labor law because I have no idea what type of action could be taken against me.
“Finally, if I were to disregard everything else and take you up on your offer, then people who don’t know about this situation are going to see the promotional post and assume that I, too, am violating the rules because again, all members received the email stating that doing this was wrong. I don’t want anyone thinking that represents my character or values.
“So, no, I do not find this a remotely acceptable way to solve this situation and frankly, I’m pissed! I believe that if our opposition felt they were above both the union’s regulations and federal labor laws that they should be removed from running at all as we do not need such people representing us in our market.”
“I have to agree with David [Martin] on this,” said another indie board candidate who asked not to be identified. “The solution asks us to break the same rules, and would not provide a fix. The ballots have been out for a week, and the majority of those that will vote, have already done so. It is extremely disappointing to hear that this kind of action is not being met with appropriate action. A ‘fair election’ is not possible given the circumstances.”
After their complaints were relayed to the union’s national offices in Los Angeles, the local’s election committee came up with a new remedy, releasing a statement to members of the local saying that it has “decided to take immediate action to ensure a fair election. It instructed the employers to immediately remove the campaign material from the Pages, which they did. In an effort to create a level playing field, which was within the election committee’s remedial authority, the decision also offered all affected candidates the opportunity to their own materials on the Pages for the same number of days, but they declined to do so.
“In light of what occurred, the election committee also decided to allow members who might want to change their vote to do so. If you have already cast your ballot and wish to change your vote based on this information, you may request a replacement ballot. In order to remedy any confusion that might have been created, the Atlanta Local Elections Committee has determined that, if an original ballot and replacement ballot are received from the same voter, only the replacement ballot will be counted.”
The committee noted that requests for replacement ballots must be made no later than August 16. New officers and board members will be installed on August 28.
Whether this latest incarnation of a remedial solution will be acceptable to the indie candidates is doubtful, as they’re already talking on social media about contesting the election.