EXCLUSIVE: SAG-AFTRA’s national election committee has dismissed a plethora of post-election protests that were filed by the losing candidates and their supporters in the union’s recent election in which Fran Drescher, running on the ruling party’s Unite for Strength (UFS) slate, was elected president, and Joely Fisher, running on the opposition Membership First slate, was voted in as national secretary-treasurer, defeating Anthony Rapp.
Matthew Modine, who was defeated in his second bid for the presidency, was one of several MembershipFirst candidates who filed protests, though Fisher, his victorious running mate, did not challenge the outcome. Other complaints were filed by SAG-AFTRA members Peter Antico, Adam Nelson, Chuck Slavin, David Clennon, Samantha Hartson and Kevin Cannon.
“We have carefully reviewed and considered the protests, the parties’ submissions, the Election Policy, the SAG-AFTRA Constitution, and applicable federal election law,” the committee said in its decision. “We conclude that there was no violation of the Election Policy, the SAG-AFTRA Constitution, or federal election law. Accordingly, we dismiss all post-election protests.”
Read the committee’s decision here.
In a statement to Deadline, Modine alleged that the committee failed in its duties to ensure a fair election, and that its dismissal of the protests “is a UFS celebration of unfair advantage and deceit.”
“I love my union and its vast array of members,” he said. “‘Union,’ by definition, means unity. The primary function and purpose of SAG-AFTRA’s existence is to provide and protect its members. Today’s findings illustrate a sad truth: The committee that oversees the election must scrutinize the process and look for unfair advantages and behavior that violates the campaign rules. But it didn’t. It should come as no surprise that the election committee is made up entirely of Unite for Strength members. This Election committee is seated by the union president, in this case, the departed Gabrielle Carteris — Carteris’ and now newly seated president Fran Drescher’s faction. There were dozens of clear, tangible, actual violations presented to the election committee in our election. These violations were presented by several members, all from different locals. Each of the violations were associated with UFS improprieties. Each violation was presented to the ‘UFS election committee,’ and all complaints were dismissed. The dismissal of these critical violations, which I hope will be made public, is a UFS celebration of unfair advantage and deceit. When the core functions of a union fail to serve all its members, what recourse do we have?”
The committee, responding to the protesters’ claim that it is biased because it was allegedly “populated solely with Unite for Strength party members loyal to former SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris,” noted that it “was appointed pursuant to the procedures … of the SAG-AFTRA Constitution, which provides, in relevant part: i. The National Board shall appoint a National Officer Election Committee to oversee the conduct of all National Officer elections and to hear and determine election protests in accordance with the procedures and polices established by the National Board. ii. The Election Committee shall be made up of at least three members in good standing, who may not be candidates for National Officer, National Board or Local Board positions. The members of this Election Committee were, accordingly, appointed by the National Board, and not, as alleged, by any political party. The National Board approved the appointments in a more than two-thirds super-majority vote. We find no violation.”
One of the many protests dismissed by the committee involved Tom Hanks, whose endorsement of Drescher and her Unite for Strength slate was featured prominently in her campaign. Protesters, however, claimed that his endorsement violated federal election law, which prohibits the use of employer funds to promote the candidacy of anyone running for union office. Hanks is the co-founder of Playtone, his film and TV production company. U.S. Dept. of Labor regulations – Section 401(g) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act – also provide that employer resources, include both direct and indirect expenditures, may not be used in union elections.
Many other prominent actors also have their own production companies, and the committee found that Hanks was perfectly within his rights – and the law – to endorse Drescher and her team because no employer resources were involved.
Hanks even signed a sworn declaration, under penalty of perjury, which states: “I, Tom Hanks, declare as follows: I am a member of SAG-AFTRA. As a member of SAG-AFTRA, I allowed the Unite for Strength slate to include my endorsement and photograph in their campaign literature. The photograph that was used is a photograph that I own, and have the absolute right to use as I deem appropriate. Although I own a production company, none of the company’s staff, resources, equipment, or other things of value were utilized in connection with my endorsement or support of the Unite for Strength slate. I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the forgoing is true and correct.”
The committee concurred in its decision: “In response to the protests, UFS submitted a statement and signed declaration from Tom Hanks. In his signed declaration, Hanks affirmed that he is a member of SAG-AFTRA, that he gave his endorsement of Drescher, Rapp, and UFS in his capacity as a SAG-AFTRA member, and that no employer resources were used in connection with the endorsement. He also stated that the photograph that was used is a photograph that he owns and that he has the absolute right to use the photograph as he deems appropriate. Finally, he affirmed that although he owns a production company, none of the company’s staff, resources, equipment, or other things of value were used in connection with his endorsement or to support the UFS slate.”
In his endorsement, Hanks said: “The future of SAG-AFTRA is streaming. Members deserve stronger contracts, more residuals, better protections, and ending unfair exclusivity. I’m supporting Fran, Anthony and their entire team. Your vote matters!”
The committee noted that although both the SAG-AFTRA election policy and federal law “prohibit the use of employer funds to support a candidate for union election, both the Department (of Labor) and the courts have made clear that members of SAG-AFTRA who might also be considered to be employers…may endorse the candidates of their choice as long as they do so in their individual capacities without the use of employer resources.
“Neither the campaign materials nor the endorsement on the UFS website refers to Playtone or Hanks’s alleged status as an owner of Playtone. Additionally, there is no evidence that any of the campaign materials were distributed using Playtone or any other employer’s funds. In fact, in his declaration, Hanks affirms that he provided his endorsement and picture to UFS in his capacity as a SAG-AFTRA member, and that no funds from his company Playtone were used. No contrary evidence was provided to us.
“In sum, as a SAG-AFTRA member, just like a number of other high-profile SAG-AFTRA members who might be considered employers, some of whom endorsed one slate and some of whom endorsed the other, Hanks had the right to support the candidate of his choosing in SAG-AFTRA’s election as long as he did so in his individual capacity and without the use of employer resources. The fact that Hanks may serve in some circumstances as an employer does not limit this right. Based on the evidence provided, we find no evidence that employer resources were used in connection with Hanks’s endorsement of Drescher, Rapp, and the UFS slate. Accordingly, we find that no violation of Section 401(g) and the Election Policy occurred.”
The committee also found “insufficient evidence” to support the protesters’ claims that Drescher’s manager, Rick Dorfman, violated the law when he sent out an email promoting her candidacy – which he later asked recipients to disregard. Dorfman is head of comedy, content development & creative strategy at Authentic Talent & Literary Management.
“Even if there were a violation, and we have found that no violation occurred,” the committee wrote, “we also note that Dorfman sent a letter within hours of the first email encouraging the recipients of his first email to ‘vote for whomever you think will support the issues that you are most passionate about.’ The following day, he sent an additional email to the recipients which included the language: ‘Please do not take any action or make any contributions in response to my email. If you forwarded this email to anyone, or asked anyone to take action as a result, please advise them to disregard the request as well.’”
The committee noted that the DOL and the courts “have consistently recognized that curative action such as this negates a finding of a Section 401(g) violation. Thus, we find that Dorfman took appropriate precautionary steps to cure a possible violation which, as stated, we find did not occur.”
Robert Allen, MembershipFirst’s attorney, also was critical of the committee, claiming that it “confirmed its bias in its own report, finding no election violations despite presenting undisputed evidence that confirm that violations occurred. By way of example, the committee confirmed that manager Dorfman, who is an employee of Authentic, used his employer’s email system to send out his endorsement of Drescher (Dorfman acknowledges that he only has one email address). The committee, who correctly articulates the legal standard, then repeatedly ignores it. The question is not whether Dorfman, Hanks or others were employers. The question is whether employer resources were used to promote a candidate. The committee, knowing that the answer was yes, instead, like a magician, focus our attention on the bright, shiny object—here, employer status — while using sleight of hand to make the truth — use of employer resources — seemingly disappear. Hanks provided a photo to UFS that he now purports to own. A simple google search shows that photo used by major news organizations, all crediting either the photographer or Columbia Pictures as the owner. The committee fails to investigate and ask the obvious question — when did Hanks acquire the photo and did he own it when it was used by UFS? Thus confirming it was never going to find an election violation, regardless of the facts or the truth.”
In August, before the votes were counted, the committee ruled that local TV station KTLA had “crossed the line from journalistically appropriate news coverage” of the union’s election to “improper promotion” of candidates running on the MembershipFirst slate.
That decision, which urged KTLA to provide “equal access” to candidates running on the ruling party’s Unite for Strength slate, stemmed from an Aug. 4 interview that entertainment reporter Sam Rubin conducted with Joely Fisher, and his Aug. 11 interview with Sheryl Lee Ralph, a MembershipFirst candidate for L.A. Local vice president. Rubin, who was running for the union’s L.A. local board on their slate, was later elected to the board.
That decision, which did not find any wrongdoing by MembershipFirst or any of its candidates – including Rubin – determined that the interviews in question amounted to an “improper” employer contribution to MembershipFirst candidates because the station declined to offer equal time to candidates on the other slate, even though Rubin prefaced his interview with Fisher by saying that “candidates from both groups are very much welcome on our show here.”