During the recent Screen Actors Guild/New York national board elections, the battle appeared to wage between two major combatants: Save SAG, which supported the SAG nominating committee's five candidates, and the activist Clean Slate, aligned with SAG/NY President Lisa Scarola.
But the elections saw four other independent candidates unite and quietly run; so quietly that they never even announced to the press they had formed; nor did either of the other two fronts speak of them by name.
The Rainbow Slate, four actors of color, made their presence known to the public outside of SAG last week. Frank Kali, one of the candidates and the slate's spokesman, on Monday told Back Stage they had formed to bring a voice to issues facing minority actors. He added that they plan to keep organizing and run a slate in next year's board elections.
Kali also candidly stated that the Rainbow Slate will complain to the state Attorney General's office about "slanderous and negative" misinformation disseminated about two of their slate's members during the campaign. He also questioned the amount of votes reported in the election, saying the number was suspicious because it was the highest volume of ballots in 20 years, including what he considered a disproportional amount cast for the nominating committee's slate, which won all five open seats.
Joining Kali on the Rainbow Slate were Esai Morales, SeRona Rosario, and James Saito. Morales came in 10th in the voting, the highest of any Rainbow Slate member.
A fifth active SAG member, Alice Liu, vice chairman of SAG/NY's equal employment opportunity committee, had planned to join the slate as a candidate, but an eye operation caused her to reconsider.
"We wanted to increase the Latino and Asian representation on the board," Kali explained. "They're two of the most underrepresented groups in the industry. We decided to come together to make a difference. It really came from a simple and pure spot. Who knew it would push buttons for so many people."
The Rainbow Slate, organizing late and with little money, managed to issue a short flyer near election time. On the flyer, the slate defined itself as "four diverse & progressive people…who care and are committed to a smart & equal membership."
The flyer noted that a vote for the slate would "achieve a democratic board that represents its membership in contract negotiations—regardless of color, age, sex, disability AND regardless of contract: principal or extra."
Liu said that the Rainbow Slate wasn't happy with SAG's foreign-language pacts. "We have two foreign-language contracts, Spanish and Asian," Liu said. "They're undervalued because SAG based negotiations on statistics that were old and didn't reflect the spending numbers for the respective markets."
The slate's flyer also said its candidates wanted "wider access to health & pension benefits." Kali said minority SAG members "are having such a problem holding our own in health insurance."
He noted that SAG had decided to free up entrance into the guild for nonunion members who walked off a struck set or did 80 hours work on the strike.
"Why don't we have that same kind of decision when people who need health insurance are $100 short of qualifying for the health plan? Our insurance plan has Tier One that requires a SAG member to make $15,000 to qualify, and Tier Two requires $7,500. I know a number of people who missed by $100, and were told they couldn't get in."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, in 1993 SAG implemented a two-tier health benefits plan because trustees were faced with multimillion-dollar deficits. SAG members were required to earn $5,000 annually to be eligible for the health plan, and $12,500 for the guild's maximum health package. By '96, the requirements had risen to $7,500 and $15,000.
The flyer also said the slate would work for "full disclosure," printed in all capital letters. Asked what that referred to, Kali responded, "Whatever affects union members, we should be able to ask questions about." He noted that at last week's SAG/NY membership meeting, the local's treasurer, Michael Carbonella, rose to ask some questions, "but a faction opposed to him turned their backs and began clapping to drown him out. I think that as adults, as human beings, that's just appalling. If someone is elected to a position, they should be able to speak, and should have the attention and generosity of the entire membership.
"That's just one example," Kali said, noting that Carbonella also had not been given access to SAG/NY's financial records because he was aligned with Clean Slate, a complaint which Clean Slate voiced during the election campaign.
It was pointed out to Kali that some of the Rainbow Slate's concerns matched those of Clean Slate. He was asked why the two groups hadn't melded rather than run separately.
"In looking at the Clean Slaters that ran," he answered, "it was a very specific group. There was no one of color. Also, there was a similarity of their ages. So they targeted a particular cross-section of the union. We had different ages, and both Asian and Latin.
"Are our concerns similar?" he continued. "If you're part of a group that's being snuffed out, absolutely. A lot of people feel this way. That's why 19 people ran this year. There's clearly unrest."
Kali said he thought that by the Rainbow Slate's running, it would "encourage people of color to say, 'Let's stand tall and make a difference.' "
Kali said he knew that the nominating committee's slate included a Latin male and African-American female who won seats on the board. "But it's important if you're of color, that you represent all the community in a fair and supportive way."
But he said the "nom com," short for nominating committee, supporters had "slandered" the Rainbow Slate's Morales and Saito. "To have people that support you put out all that stuff about another Latin and Asian male is incorrigible to me."
Back Stage attempted to reach Michelle Hurd, one of the winning candidates Kali referred to. She was in Seattle, shooting an episode of the new TV series "The Fugitive," and not available for comment. There's no phone listing for the other winning candidate, Angel Elon, whom Kali spoke of.
Asked what the Rainbow Slate considered "slanderous," Liu faxed copies of flyers she said were distributed by "nom com" supporters.
One flyer, distributed by 9 Unions United, called Morales "Scarola's celebrity dupe…During the strike, scores of celebrities have stepped up for all of us. Esai Morales was not one of them."
Another flyer, paid for by the Background and Seniors Alliance, said, "Esai Morales lives in Los Angeles. So why does he want to be on the NY SAG board? Who is he working for?" The flyer went on to urge the reader to vote for the nominating committee's slate.
Kali retorted, "They said Esai was a Clean Slater, which speaks to the invisibility of the minority slate." He said the Rainbow Slate would run in next year's elections with more visibility.
"They also said he's not from New York, but from L.A.," Kali added. "But he couldn't have run if he weren't a New York member with a New York residence."
He said the same misinformation had been spread about Saito.
As for Morales not participating in the strike effort, Kali said he knew that Morales had "made a moving speech" to strikers in Cincinnati, and that a "nom com" candidate had seen him make it.
Kali said the Rainbow Slate would take such flyers to the state attorney general, as well as their concerns about the vote tally.
"I'm a numbers guy," Kali said. "There were 2,675 more people who voted this year than last year."
He was asked if the increased vote might have resulted from enthusiasm arising from the commercials contract strike.
"The strike was part of it, but there's a huge variance from the top winner and even the fifth winner to the sixth winner," Kali responded. He added, "There will be an investigation into that."
The voting numbers for this year showed noted actor Tony Roberts led all candidates with 5,112 votes. The rest of his nominating committee candidates—Michelle Hurd (5,049), Skip Sudduth (4,682), Skip Hinnant (4,487), and Angel Elon (3,726) immediately followed him.
Four of the five Clean Slaters ranked sixth through ninth in the voting: Yaffa Amato-Sharir (1,612), Timothy Klein (1,597), Marilyn Roberts (1,568), and Charles Gemmill (1,541). The Rainbow Slate's Esai Morales (1,371) came next, followed by independent candidate Lee Wong (1,215) and the fifth Clean Slater, Ben V. Bergen (1,101). The other three Rainbow candidates came in 14th, 15th, and 19th.
There were 8,269 ballots cast in this year's SAG/NY election. In 1999, 5,594 were cast, with Eileen Henry leading all candidates with 4,169 votes. She was unopposed for 4th national vice president. Scarola, who was opposed, garnered the next largest tally with 3,249 for 2nd national vice president. Cliff Robertson led in filling seven open three-year seats on the board with 2,885 votes.
Kali did note that both Save SAG and Clean Slate were well-organized, which usually results in their bringing in more votes. Also, Save SAG had bought advertising and operated a website, which must have paid off for the nom coms.
"It may be naïve, but we saw a clear separation caused by the 'us and them' mentality," Kali concluded. "We thought if we stopped the arguing, and were visionary, if we could take the issues to the next level, and resolve them rather than fighting about them, we could help the union."
He indicated that next year, with better organization, perhaps the Rainbow Slate could succeed.