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SAG Candidates Finalized

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The Screen Actors Guild has announced the final list of candidates for the two national officer positions and 24 board seats, and also has released a study including the income level of guild members who vote.

The three national presidential candidates are Gordon Drake, Melissa Gilbert, and Kent McCord.

Drake is an independent candidate who broke away earlier this year from the McCord contingent that opposed the consolidation of SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Drake supports a merger of the two unions, and has said he believes the other two presidential candidates have polarized the membership.

Gilbert, SAG's current national president, was a driving force in the consolidation effort, which failed because only 58% of voting SAG members supported the merger. The guild needed 60% of voting members to cast a favorable ballot. She and her supporters, which include most of the current national board, appear to be moving toward another effort at merger following the presidential election.

McCord, SAG's national treasurer, had criticized Gilbert and Robert Pisano—SAG's national executive director-chief executive officer—during the merger effort for not providing members with enough specific information on the effects of consolidation. He and his supporters had said they favored a merger with AFTRA, but not if SAG must give up autonomy over contracts and finances.

Three candidates also are seeking the secretary-treasurer position: Barbara Cheeseborough, James Cromwell, and Esai Morales. Cromwell appears aligned with Gilbert, with both selected by SAG's nominating committee. Morales is aligned with McCord.

New York Tussle

The guild's New York division will elect a branch president, four national board members and nine alternates.

Two members seek the SAG/NY presidency: Eileen Henry and Erik-Anders Nilsson.

Henry, the current New York president, is a strong supporter of Gilbert and consolidation. She consistently has proved a top vote getter in recent elections. She also serves as SAG's 2nd national vice president.

Nilsson, who has been politically associated with former SAG/NY President Lisa Scarola, opposed the recent consolidation effort. He also organized a local debate on the merger before the vote, but consolidation supporters refused to take part, except from the audience.

The 17 candidates for the SAG/NY national board seats and alternate positions include: Dave Bachman, Paul Christie, John Fleming, Sam Freed, Alison Gordy, Gerald M. Kline, Jack Landron, Doug Lory, Michael McDerman, Marilyn Miller, Sue-Anne Morrow, Jody Myers, Erik-Anders Nilsson, Francisco Rivela, Cynthia Vance, Ron Wall, and Liz Zazzi.

The election also offers 12 seats and 22 alternate slots for SAG's Hollywood division, the guild's largest. The ballot will list 85 candidates, including former national presidential candidates Angeltompkins and Eugene Boggs; Elliott Gould—SAG's current national recording secretary—and Mark Carlton, who worked as communications director for the McCord group opposing the recent merger effort.

Noted actors running for Hollywood board seats include Rene Auberjonois, Joanna Cassidy, Tess Harper, Robert Hays, Diane Ladd, John Saxon, Loretta Swit, and Renee Taylor.

Ballots will go out on Aug. 26. The national-officer ballots, along with Hollywood and New York ballots, must be returned by Sept. 23. They'll be tabulated the same day. All branches must conclude elections by Sept. 25.

Whither the Votes?

Candidates searching for a victory evidently must look for votes from the guild's "have-nots": actors who have found little work and received little income through SAG contracts. At least, that's the verdict if one considers the outcome of the guild's study of who voted on the recent SAG-AFTRA consolidation.

The study showed that 70,084 ballots on merger went to SAG members. They returned 50% of those, or 34,932, the highest return in the guild's history.

The study also listed a "voter count" category that showed a greater percentage of voters coming from the lower-income ranges. Those members voting with no SAG-contract income totaled about 11,000; 10,000 SAG voters showed income between $1 and $1,000; just over 6,000 earned between $1,000 and $5,000; nearly 5,000 touted income between $5,000 and $20,000; only 2,000 earned between $20,000 and $50,000. The voters drop dramatically from there, with just over 1,000 voters earning from $50,000 to $200,000.

That could also determine the issues the candidates will bring to the voters. Consolidation will obviously remain a major issue, and the argument will be over who will control SAG finances and final contract decisions: the guild or an umbrella union. Under the failed consolidation effort, SAG would have dissolved as it presently stands, and legally reformed as an affiliate of the Alliance of International Media Artists, which would have possessed power of final approval over SAG contracts, as well as control of finances.

The guild's fiscal condition could also be at issue. Looking at a lingering deficit, candidates will have to tell members how they see the guild balancing the books. They'll also be queried by members about the guild's struggling health plan. While the guild doesn't directly control the SAG-Producers health plan, the SAG board does appoint trustees who oversee the plan.

Another issue could be who would have the right to vote on future SAG pacts. The guild constitution presently allows all members to vote. But some SAG leaders who supported a new franchise agreement with talent agents—only to see that contract fail due to a strong anti-vote from SAG members without agents—have voiced support for a new rule allowing only members working under a pact to vote on that contract.

SAG is also looking at the opening of a major contract negotiation in early September: the commercials pact. The guild co-negotiates the agreement with AFTRA. The two unions three years ago walked out of talks and into a bitter six-month strike against the ad industry.

Both unions' boards have approved a proposal package to present to the ad industry when talks begin, some time after Labor Day; the time has yet to be announced. But the union leaders are keeping the proposal close to the vest.

Whether or not the pact will rise as an issue in the current elections remains to be seen. Gilbert used the commercials-pact strike as political fodder when she last ran, criticizing former President William Daniels for leading the guild into a strike that Gilbert considered too long and too expensive.

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