After a hard-fought battle during yet another contentious national election, Fran Drescher has been elected SAG-AFTRA’s next president, prevailing over rival Matthew Modine.
Joely Fisher was also elected to succeed Camryn Manheim as the union’s secretary-treasurer, besting Anthony Rapp. Drescher received 16,958 votes and Modine, 15,371 votes. For the post of secretary-treasurer, Fisher received 18,547 votes and Rapp, 13,593 votes. A total of 122,154 ballots were mailed, 26.49 percent were returned.
I am honored to serve my union in this capacity. Together we will navigate through these troubled times of global health crisis and together we will rise up out of the melee to do what we do best, entertain and inform,” Drescher shared in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter.
We must never forget the important contribution we make to many millions of people each and every day when they buy a ticket to sit in a dark theater or turn on their TV’s or streaming devices. Our chosen professions within the SAG-AFTRA membership have literally gotten Americans to laugh, to learn to momentarily escape that we are all in a pandemic. We members serve an invaluable purpose in the grand scheme of things. We must never forget who we are and what unites us as one union. Today marks the beginning of a fresh start, let us forge forward in a holistic and non-partisan ascension towards the precipice of a new dawn,” Dresher continued.
“Only as a united front will we have strength against the real opposition in order to achieve what we all want: more benefits, stronger contracts and better protections. Let us lock elbows and together show up with strength at the negotiating table,” the actress continued, noting that she will equally “fight like hell” for those who voted for her as well as for her opponent.
Former president Gabrielle Carteris, who served two terms, shared a farewell message on SAG-AFTRA’s website as results came in. “As SAG-AFTRA transitions to a new leadership team, I wanted to thank each of you for allowing me the honor of serving as your president for more than five years. It has been a time of great change for our profession. We challenged an in-the-shadows culture of sexual harassment head-on and navigated the rapid expansion of streaming services, changes in media ownership, and the scores of new content platforms that employ us. We have journeyed through some very challenging times together, from holding the longest strike in our union’s history and gaining secondary payments in video games to organizing Telemundo — our first television network in 50 years,” Carteris wrote.
“We fought to end sexual assault and the abuses of hyper-exposed work, and reached new milestones in our ongoing effort to end the systemic biases within our industry and the union itself. While organizing, enforcing and protecting, we have been faced with perhaps the biggest challenge of all: a pandemic. Despite all of this, we continue to prevail and move forward. That is due to you,” Carteris added in her statement.
The SAG-AFTRA political party affiliated with Drescher and Rapp, Unite for Strength, has held the presidency for the last 12 years, the final five with outgoing president Gabrielle Carteris. When Carteris announced that she had decided not to run for re-election to the top role in July, she backed The Nanny and Star Trek: Discovery stars’ campaign, saying in a statement, “It’s bittersweet to move on, but I do so with gratitude and great confidence in Fran and the remarkable Anthony Rapp.” During her campaign, Drescher argued that her background as an activist in Washington and founder of a nonprofit would serve her well, particularly expressing to The Hollywood Reporter her wish to unify the membership, enlist more high-profile SAG members in contract negotiations and strengthen ties with the larger labor movement. For his part, Rapp spoke about his desire to create an internal code of conduct as well as production protocols to guide on-set personnel on issues facing trans and nonbinary actors, among other issues.
Rival party Membership First, backing Modine and Fisher, which last election made significant gains on the Los Angeles board, spotlighted the pair’s experience on union boards and committees and the importance of “repairing our union’s foundation,” as Modine told The Hollywood Reporter. Among other issues, the Membership First platform argued for the need to end “pre-paid residual” contracts (where potential future backend earnings are bought out in one initial payment), change streaming residual calculations and the union’s split pension plan.
Both parties promised to prioritize gains in the upcoming TV/theatrical agreement (whose negotiations will begin in 2023), promote diversity and safety from sexual harassment and tackle a recent restructuring of the union-affiliated SAG-AFTRA Health Plan that is ultimately expected to strip thousands of their previous health benefits. (The changes are at the heart of an ongoing class-action lawsuit led by the late Ed Asner, which charges that the Health Fund and its board of trustees breached fiduciary duty and stepped afoul of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. A spokesperson for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan has said, “We are confident that the courts will ultimately reject this meritless litigation.”)
The campaigning got heated over the summer, with candidates throwing jabs at the opposition on social media. Furthermore, in August, Unite for Strength members filed a complaint with the union’s national election committee over a KTLA interview by Membership First L.A. Local board candidate and KTLA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin with Fisher. Unite for Strength alleged the interview was, in part, essentially an unlawful employer contribution to Membership First and the committee found that the interview did infringe upon established rules. An attorney advising Modine said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that the complaint has no merit and that the committee “is made up entirely of members selected by outgoing SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris.”
And as is usual in SAG-AFTRA contests, stars split over the election: Unite for Strength landed endorsements from figures including Tom Hanks, Rosario Dawson, J.K. Simmons and Debra Messing, while Membership First was supported by Whoopi Goldberg, Mark Hamill, Margaret Cho and Diane Keaton.
When they take office, the union’s incoming leaders will need to team up again with fellow entertainment unions to revisit the return-to-work agreement with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers, which is set to expire at the end of September. The union’s leadership — Carteris recently issued a blazing statement supporting Scarlett Johansson in her Black Widow lawsuit against Disney — will be faced with changes in compensation for its members amid the ever-changing distribution landscape. And in addition to the 2023 negotiations on the TV/theatrical agreement, negotiations on the Commercials contract will begin next year.