With SAG National Board Elections, Union Consolidates Power After Strike

News   With SAG National Board Elections, Union Consolidates Power After Strike For theatre and entertainment fans cruising news sites in search of early election results, here’s a gem from the acting world.

For theatre and entertainment fans cruising news sites in search of early election results, here’s a gem from the acting world.

The 100,000 member Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has announced the results of its recent board election, a hard-fought contest which filled 32 seats on the guild’s 105-member national board. It is clear from the results—on both the winning and losing slates— that actors voted for familiar faces and names and tended to be influenced favorably by a candidate’s alliance with the recent strike against commercial advertising interests.

Theatre actors and professionals are watching this behind-the-scenes drama with anticipation, because actors and writers may be heading for a theatrical strike late next spring. With less than eight months to go before such a strike might be called, significant changes in union leadership take on new meaning. A theatrical strike in 2001 is not a fait accompli: the Writers Guild of America (WGA) leadership is saying everything it can to diminish strike momentum. And, when asked if there would be a strike next year, even die-hard activist actor Tim Robbins indicated he’d be there if necessary but, he told Playbill On-Line, “Let’s just say I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

With this in mind, there are some key aspects of the election that warrant special attention.

The late Steve Allen, who had never run for office in the guild, won a three-year board term posthumously. His seat will be filled by the SAG board, which is scheduled to meet Nov. 13. SAG spokesperson Greg Krizman told Playbill On-Line that Allen’s replacement is likely to be “one of the initial things they discuss.” Allen’s boilerplate “profile” was mailed to SAG’s membership along with those of the other board nominees. Each profile is limited in length and is intended as a trenchant self-synopsis. Allen’s read: “My family has been connected with the entertainment industry since the 1890s when my mother entered the circus world and served for five years as literally a slave, given that she was never paid for her services. From childhood, I’ve heard horror stories about the mistreatment of entertainers that was so common before they developed their own unions. Even at present there are those who not only resent unions but are working to put them out of business. If elected to SAG’s board of directors, my primary contributions would be to write and speak on behalf of the guild’s aims.”

According to a guild statement, “25 members have been elected from the general membership/Hollywood branch, five from New York, and Chicago and Washington D.C./Baltimore each filled one seat. Results from the election for the National Board of Directors seat from Philadelphia won’t be known until voting for that spot closes on Nov. 13.”

In New York, there was a contentious battle between certain SAG factions. In the shadow of the two-year-old California-based Performers Alliance, which has gradually increased its representation on the national board, the members of three other factions campaigned in New York. [There is at least one other prominent faction in SAG, the New York-based Theatrical Information Project (TIP) which is remotely derived from the Concerned Actors Network (CAN) of 20 years ago.]

The most controversial of the New York factions was led by SAG New York branch president Lisa Scarola, whose Clean Slate campaigned for radical reforms throughout SAG. At once an idealistic reformer and an uncompromising agitator who probably managed to galvanize her opposition better than it ever could on its own, Scarola’s was the singlemost notorious name in the election. Her slate, comprising Yaffa Amato-Sharir, Ben Van Bergen, Charles Gemmill, Tim Klien and Marilyn Roberts did not win any seats. In fact, the opposing Save SAG Committee nominees, Angel Elon, Skip Hinnant, Michelle Hurd, Tony Roberts and Skipp Sudduth were all elected. Save SAG and its most visible supporters were also closely involved with the day-to-day organization and operation of SAG's strike headquarters during the commercial strike.

What this means is that Scarola did not pick up additional seats on the board in New York. And while this was Save SAG's job No. 1, it also suggests that the politically active union will be that much calmer and less contentious for the foreseeable future. It may also indicate that the guild is consolidating power and unifying its leadership ahead of next year’s challenges.

Ironically, one of Lisa Scarola’s stated aims, that of returning guild leadership to an “all star” format with recognized actors on the board, is already becoming a reality. Here are selected election results, showing who was voted in and by how much.

Elected to three year terms were (Name/No. of Votes):

Valerie Harper: 7,099
Tom Bosley: 6,821
Steve Allen: 6,602
Elliott Gould: 6,513
Melissa Gilbert: 6,434
Fred Savage: 5,509
Sally Kirkland: 4,703
Anne-Marie Johnson: 4,364
Wil Wheaton: 4,129
Frances Fisher: 4,096
Joe Pantoliano: 3,652
George Coe: 3,346
Kevin Kilner: 3,182
Renee Aubry: 3,150
David Huddleston: 3,110
Eugene Boggs: 2,934
Aki Aleong: 2,914
DeWayne Williams: 2,882
Racheal Seymour: 2,875
Todd Susman: 2,792

Elected to two-year terms were:

Angeltompkins [sic]: 2,726
Jennifer Aquino: 2,702
Steve Barr: 2,607

Elected to one year terms were:

Wren T. Brown: 2,568
Peter Mark Richman: 2,534

Elected to the National Board from the New York branch were:

Tony Roberts: 5,112
Michelle Hurd: 5,049
Skip Sudduth: 4,682
Skip Hinnant: 4,487
Angel Elon : 3,726

In the above contentious New York race, it is noteworthy that the losing slate’s high-vote earner, Yaffa Amato-Sharir, campaigned visibly with Clean Slate leader Lisa Scarola. Even so, Clean Slate’s most successful candidate still took less than half the votes of Save SAG’s low-vote earner, Angel Elon. The following candidates ran on Scarola’s Clean Slate; by any measure, Save SAG defeated Clean Slate by a wide margin.

Yaffa Amato-Sharir: 1,612
Timothy Klein: 1,597
Marilyn Roberts : 1,568
Charles Gemmill: 1,541
Ben V. Bergen: 1,101

As reported earlier, former Nashvillian and now Chicago-based actor Norm Woodel was elected to the national board of directors with 280 votes, defeating incumbent Jack Shaw, who received 253 votes. And, in the Washington D.C./Baltimore area, David Long ran unopposed for the national board of directors.

-- By Murdoch McBride