SAG-AFTRA took a major step Tuesday towards kicking Donald Trump out of the union. Meeting in special session, the national board of directors voted overwhelmingly to find “probable cause” that Trump, who has been a member for over 30 years, has “violated the union’s Constitution,” and ordered the matter to be heard by SAG-AFTRA’s Disciplinary Committee.
If found guilty by the committee, possible penalties include reprimand, censure, fines, suspension from the rights and privileges of membership, or expulsion.
The charges cite Trump’s role in inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and his “sustaining a reckless campaign of misinformation aimed at discrediting and ultimately threatening the safety of journalists, many of whom are SAG-AFTRA members.”
The charges were initiated by David White, the union’s national executive director, at the request of SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who have requested the imposition of the most severe penalty available to the union: his expulsion from membership.
“Donald Trump attacked the values that this union holds most sacred – democracy, truth, respect for our fellow Americans of all races and faiths, and the sanctity of the free press,” Carteris said. “There’s a straight line from his wanton disregard for the truth to the attacks on journalists perpetrated by his followers.”
“Our most important role as a union is the protection of our members,” said White. “The unfortunate truth is, this individual’s words and actions over the past four years have presented actual harm to our broadcast journalist members. The board’s resolution addresses this effort to undermine freedom of the press and reaffirms the principles on which our democratic society rests, and which we must all work to protect and preserve.”
SAG-AFTRA, which represents thousands of broadcast journalists across the country, said that reports of intimidation and physical assaults against journalists “have escalated throughout Trump’s presidency.”
In accordance with federal labor law and the SAG-AFTRA Constitution, disciplinary action can only be taken if the charged member is found guilty after a hearing before the Disciplinary Committee. The union noted that members of the committee did not participate in today’s probable cause review, and that as charging parties, neither Carteris nor White will take any role in decision-making on this disciplinary matter.
A letter from the union is being sent to Trump today notifying him of today’s action, and providing notice of the charges against him. The process of expelling him could take three to six weeks, depending on the committee’s verdict — and possibly longer if Trump requests an extension of the upcoming hearing. If the committee votes to expel him, that ruling will still have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the national board.
The former star of The Apprentice – and soon-to-be former president – has been a member of the union and its forerunners, SAG and AFTRA, since 1989. The two unions merged in 2012.
Article XIV of the SAG-AFTRA Constitution states that members may be suspended or expelled for “engaging in actions antagonistic to the interests or integrity of the union.” The union, which is non-partisan and does not endorse or donate to political candidates or parties, has criticized Trump in the past for calling the news media “the enemy of the American people.”
The breaking point for the union’s leaders, however, came on January 6 when Trump exhorted a crowd of angry supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol and to “fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” The violent insurrection that ensued led the House of Representatives to impeach Trump for the second time, accusing the president of having “willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — lawless action at the Capitol.” During that now-famous speech, however, Trump also told the crowd: “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
But earlier today, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Trump for provoking the rioters. “The mob was fed lies,” he said on the Senate floor. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
The day after the riot, which left five dead and temporarily halted the final counting of the Electoral College votes, SAG-AFTRA issued a statement that “condemns in the strongest terms yesterday’s attack on America’s foundational principles. Rioters, emboldened and encouraged by a sitting president and his enablers who have peddled baseless conspiracy theories, stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to subvert democracy. As a union and a democratic organization, we are appalled by this attack on the values we hold most sacred. The disgraceful scenes coming out of the nation’s capital have undermined America’s institutions and its standing in the world. Displays of the Confederate flag and other symbols of white supremacy and hate were meant to subjugate and terrorize people of color and those of certain faiths. This poison attacks the diverse membership of our union and the labor movement.”
In addition to his starring role on reality TV hit The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice (2004-17), over the years he’s also appeared as himself in numerous films and TV shows. His small-screen credits as himself include All My Children (1992), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1994), The Nanny (1996), Suddenly Susan (1997), The Drew Carey Show (1997), NightMan (1997), Spin City (1998), Sex and the City (1999), The Job (2001) and Days of Our Lives (2005).
Films in which he’s appeared as himself include Ghosts Can’t Do It (1989), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Across the Sea of Time (1995), Eddie (1996), Celebrity (1998), Zoolander (2001), Two Weeks Notice (2002) and Marmalade (2004).
According to a financial disclosure report he filed in August, Trump receives a $90,776 pension for the acting work he performed on SAG-covered shows and an $8,724 pension for his AFTRA-covered work. If he’s expelled, his pension wouldn’t be affected, nor would he be prevented from working in SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction.