SAG-AFTRA Presidential Election Challenges Filed, With ‘BH90210’ At Center Of One

Gabrielle Carteris in Fox's "BH90210" Shane Harvey/Fox

Several protests have been filed challenging the validity of SAG-AFTRA’s recent presidential election, in which incumbent Gabrielle Carteris handily defeated opponents including runners-up Matthew Modine and Jane Austin.

One of the challenges, filed Tuesday by Brian Hamilton, a founder of Membership First, claims that Fox’s current series BH90210 was “a not-so-subtle national commercial” for Carteris’ re-election campaign. The series, which premiered August 7 – nine days after election ballots were mailed to union members – is a reboot of the original Beverly Hills, 90210 featuring cast members, now all grown up, playing fictionalized versions of their real-life selves struggling to get the reboot produced.

The election challenge notes that Carteris, one of the show’s executive producers, plays the “hard-working and concerned” president of the fictionalized “Actors Guild of America.” She and the other leading characters all go by their real-life first names – not the names of the characters they played in the original show.

Carteris, however, had no say in when the show would air, and all of the show’s fictitious leading characters – not just hers – were loosely based on the actors’ real-life selves. “We’re confident that Gabrielle and her campaign scrupulously adhered to the law,” her Unite for Strength campaign said in a statement Wednesday. “It is preposterous for Membership First to continue fabricating issues to distract from their own election violations, which have been well documented in the LA Times. Legal experts agree that Matthew Modine and Membership First have violated federal law.” Modine vehemently denied the allegation.

Election challenges are not common, but in 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor forced SAG to rerun its presidential election after it was discovered the union had sent out incorrect ballots to members in New York. Melissa Gilbert, who defeated Valerie Harper in the first race, defeated her again in the rerun.

Presidential candidate Abraham Justice also has filed a protest over last week’s election results, as have the leaders of a group called the Background Artists Coalition, which claims the exclusion of Justice and Queen Searles from participating in the August 15 town hall meeting of the top three presidential candidates violated their rights to “equal treatment.” That town hall, however, was not sponsored by SAG-AFTRA, but by an outside group called UnionWorking.

Modine, who ran at the head of the Membership First ticket, has not decided whether he will file a challenge, according to a spokesperson for his campaign. Protests must be filed with the union 14 days after an election. After internal remedies are exhausted, protesters can file their complaints with the Labor Department.

Hamilton’s protest, filed with the SAG-AFTRA Elections Committee, claims Carteris “was given what amounts to a nationwide, prime time, broadcast TV ad by her employer. These episodes aired during our union’s election period while thousands of members had voting ballots in their possession. This is about Gabriel Carteris receiving something of extraordinary value directly from an employer (FOX) which clearly gave her candidacy an unfair advantage in the election.”

The protest notes that Title IV Section (g) of the Labor-Management Reporting & Disclosure Act, which governs the election of union officers, states that: “No moneys of an employer shall be contributed or applied to promote the candidacy of any person in an election subject to the provisions of this title.” The protest notes that “The law prohibits both direct contributions and indirect financial support by a union or employer to a candidate for union office.”

Two clips were included in his protest coming from the first two BH90210 episodes, which feature Carteris portraying herself as president of the “Actors Guild of America”. (See the clips below.)

The first episode, titled “The Reunion,” aired on August 7 – nine days after election ballots were mailed to SAG-AFTRA’s 145,692 members on July 29. The scene shows Carteris riding in a bus, talking on her cell phone, when she has to take an incoming call.

“Oh, I gotta go,” she says. The camera cuts to her cell phone, which says “Actors Guild of America.”

“Gabrielle, here,” she tells the caller. After listening briefly, she tells the caller: “Impartial? Of course I can be impartial. That’s my duty as president of the Actors Guild of America. I gotta protect actors when they make a complaint.” She listens for a moment and then says, “Are you kidding? Who’s the director?” She then sighs and slumps in exasperation. “Ahhh. I’m gonna kill him.”

The director she is talking about is Jason – played by cast member Jason Priestley – who had punched an actor on the set of another TV show.

The second episode, titled “The Pitch,” aired August 14 – the night before the town hall meeting of the top three SAG-AFTRA presidential candidates Carteris, Modine and Austin. A scene in this episode shows Jason asking Gabrielle to “pull some strings” for him with the “Actors Guild” to get him out of the jam he’s gotten himself into for punching the actor.

“I don’t pull strings,” Gabrielle tells him. “But I do set up mediations.”

Here are the two scenes:

All this, Hamilton wrote in his challenge, “describes evidence of violations of the election provisions of the SAG-AFTRA Constitution, the Union’s election rules, and of Title IV federal guidelines established by Congress for labor union elections.”

On July 15, prior to ballots being mailed, the SAG-AFTRA National Election Committee issued a statement that said 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.”

During the election, Carteris accused Modine of violating federal law and the union’s election rules by allegedly receiving in-kind campaign contributions from the New York Film Academy in the form of three short videos the school produced that he repurposed and linked on his campaign’s website. Modine, who sits on the school’s board of directors, denied that the public service announcements were in-kind campaign contributions, but Carteris told the Los Angeles Times that “These aren’t just flagrant violations of our union election rules, but of federal labor law as well.” Her camp said that if she were to lose the race, she may challenge it. “President Carteris and Unite for Strength will consider all available options,” a spokesperson said.

Hamilton also claims that Carteris received “inside, preferential treatment” from the union when she devoted a third of her official candidate’s statement to the new deal she’d helped negotiate with Netflix – a deal that wasn’t officially announced until three weeks after the deadline for submission of candidates’ statements.

The Netflix deal wasn’t approved by the guild’s national board until July 20, but there was nothing in her campaign statement that wasn’t true – she had helped negotiate the deal, even if that wasn’t commonly known until she disclosed it in the statement. But Hamilton’s challenge says it’s an indication that “something is very wrong here.”

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