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SAG/NY Sees Board Elections Turn Volatile

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The Screen Actors Guild/New York board elections have heated up as two groups, Save SAG and Clean Slate, have squared off.

Accusations range from "dirty tricks and lies" attributed to Clean Slate—including the alleged wasting of members' dues through "frivolous lawsuits"—to various election-rules violations by the other side, including Save SAG's allegedly using SAG/NY's strike headquarters for election-campaign operations.

Here's a look at the two sides' allegations, their responses, and their views on major election issues:

The Save SAG committee supports five candidates selected by the SAG/NY nominating committee. The candidates are Angel Elon, Skip Hinnant, Michelle Hurd, Tony Roberts, and Skip Sudduth. Clean Slate consists of five independent candidates aligned with SAG/NY President Lisa Scarola. They are Yaffa Amato-Sharir, Ben V. Bergen, Charles Gemmill, Timothy D. Klein, and Marilyn Roberts.

Save SAG's Charges

Save SAG operates a website located at www.savesagny.org. When viewed last Thursday, the homepage showed a logo design of a circular life-saving flotation device bearing the words "Save SAG." Beneath that were the words "New York Board Election 2000 Official Voting Guide" and pictures of the five nominating committee candidates.

In midscreen sat the title "Clean Slate's Dirty Tricks & Lies:" and beneath that flashed six alternating charges, including that Clean Slate: "…wasted your dues money with frivolous lawsuits"; "…changed their names to get higher placement on the ballot…"; and "said there was a $100 million health plan surplus. There wasn't."

When Back Stage rechecked the website this Monday, the "dirty tricks and lies" section had been removed.

Two of the Save SAG candidates—Michele Hurd and Skip Hinnant—returned calls Tuesday.

Hinnant, a 21-year board member, discussed Save SAG's allegations. Asked about the "frivolous lawsuits" charge, Hinnant said, "Several of the Clean Slate members have brought actions against the guild which they invented for the most part."

One Clean Slate member, Kelly Craig, a current member of the board and not a candidate this election, sued SAG/NY in an effort to speed up a runoff election which she eventually won. The federal judge ruled in her favor and ordered SAG to conduct the runoff.

Hinnant was asked what other lawsuits Clean Slate members have brought. He said he didn't have details in front of him, but added that Clean Slate members have made unreasonable requests for massive amounts of information which have cost SAG legal staff excessive time and expense.

On Clean Slate name changes, Hinnant said that Yaffa Amato-Sharir in earlier board campaigns had called herself Yaffa Sharir, but added the Amato to her last name to move it up higher on the ballot. He said the same tack was taken by Ben V. Bergen, who has run unsuccessfully in earlier elections under the name Ben Van Bergen.

Sharir responded that Amato is her husband's last name. She said that, although they are presently separated, the last name is still legally hers.

The $100 million health plan surplus allegation refers to President Scarola's complaint over the last couple of years that the SAG-Producers health plan has been holding on to millions of dollars which should be used to include more members in the plan.

In fact, the Clean Slate in its current campaign literature has upped the ante, saying that on Jan. 1, 1999, the health plan surplus was $179 million.

But Hinnant argues that the money does not make up a surplus. It's the plan's reserve fund, he says, which is used for emergencies. For example, with the current commercials strike, many SAG members aren't making money and so can't contribute to the plan. The trustees then can draw from the reserve to cover the shortage and make medical payments.

Larry Keith, a SAG/NY nominating committee member who is also active with Save SAG, was also critical of the Clean Slate's stance on the health plan. Back Stage will interview Keith, who is a health plan trustee, and others for an in-depth health plan article which will run next week.

Keith also suggested that any questions about the Save SAG website be put to Paul Christie or Paul Reggio, who were involved in that aspect. Christie and Reggio are two of SAG/NY leaders in the commercials strike. They are also two spokesmen for the Theatre Information Project which supports SAG/NY senior staff whom Scarola has made clear she opposes and wants to remove.

Asked why Save SAG's website had listed allegations against Clean Slate last week, but had removed them this week, Christie said, "We're just changing it to update it. They're nothing anybody would back off from."

Clean Slate's Charges

On the other side, Clean Slate doesn't have a website, but does have an attorney: Arthur Schwartz, Scarola's lawyer throughout her battle with SAG senior staff and local union board members who she considers enemies.

On Oct. 6, Schwartz wrote John Sucke, SAG/NY's executive director, accusing Save SAG of a number of election violations.

Two of those alleged violations involve using the union's strike campaign headquarters "to store, photocopy, and distribute Save SAG election materials," and "using SAG phone lists and e-mails from strike headquarters to create phone trees…"

Save SAG's Christie called the allegations "an absolute lie." He challenged Scarola and Clean Slate to provide proof to the allegations.

Sharir responded that Clean Slate had proof in the form of complaint letters written to candidates by SAG members, and a letter a SAG member wrote Sucke.

Daniel Neiden on Oct. 5 wrote Sucke, asking him to provide copies to the SAG/NY board and candidates of a letter Neiden wrote to SAG members. That letter includes a complaint from Neiden that—while waiting on line for a screening at the Directors Guild on West 57th Street, a woman handed him and others copies of a Save SAG pamphlet. "…she 'confided' that a strike captain was running them off for distribution inside at our own Strike Headquarters," Neiden wrote in his letter.

Asked if Neiden was aligned with Clean Slate, Amato-Sharir said, "No, I don't know him from Adam."

Schwartz also charged that Save SAG committee members were selling $5 pins and falsely telling purchasers that the money would go to the Actors' Fund and other causes. Hinnant said he wasn't aware of any Save SAG pin-sale effort.

Schwartz also complained about Save SAG placing SAG nominating committee names on a flyer without the committee members' authorization. "Nominating committee proceedings are supposed to be confidential. The committee functions by majority vote, meaning that individual members may have supported other candidates," Schwartz told Sucke.

Sucke didn't respond to two calls from Back Stage.

Save SAG lists the nominating committee members' names on its website, noting that its endorsed candidates have also received the nominating committee's approval.

Save SAG's Issues

The Save SAG Committee also carried a full-page ad in last week's Back Stage, saying its five candidates would end the current three-voucher system, stop runaway productions, open access to agents, fight for jobs, and save the union.

Candidate Hurd told Back Stage that she wasn't prepared to discuss specific issues because she was still new to the board election process.

"I've never been in politics before," she said, adding that she currently is becoming educated to the effort of being elected. If that happens, she said, she then can become educated to specific issues.

She said that, because of her involvement in the strike and the rallies, "I was approached to run by a bunch of people on the board and a part of the strike world."

Asked what board members had encouraged her to run, she backed away from that statement, saying, "I was first approached by people who are my friends."

Hurd stressed that she was a working actor dedicated to the guild. She indicated she was being guided by members of Save SAG, adding, "Sarah Crager tells me where I have to be." She suggested calling Crager to get Save SAG's position on issues. Crager didn't return Tuesday's call by press time.

Hinnant discussed the issues at length. He explained that the three-voucher issue involved the process background actors use to upgrade to principal roles. He said background actors want to get rid of the system.

But Hinnant also cautioned that Save SAG's wording of the issue, indicating that its slate could remove the system, should be stated clearer. Five candidates couldn't promise to remove the system because that would take a vote of the entire SAG national board. "We can only fight to remove the vouchers," Hinnant noted.

As for open access to agents, Hinnant said that SAG/NY currently offers scheduled times for members without representation to meet with agents, and possibly begin a business relationship.

SAG is currently in the midst of negotiations with agents over a new franchise agreement. Hinnant said, as chair of SAG/NY's agency relations committee, he is dedicated to including the agency access process in any new agreement SAG and agents may approve.

Clean Slate's Issues

Clean Slate's campaign literature involves a six-point platform including stronger contract enforcement; ending violation of member rights through "precise definition" of SAG/NY rules; and full disclosure of SAG spending and all union documents to members on request.

On contract enforcement and ending violation of member rights, Amato-Sharir said that producers are constantly involved in violations on sets, "but SAG doesn't bother to enforce them."

As for full disclosure of SAG spending, Amato-Sharir complained that a majority of the SAG/NY board had voted to keep SAG/NY Treasurer Michael Carbonella from seeing the guild financial records. Carbonella was elected last year as a member of Clean Slate.

In Scarola's ongoing fight with board opponents and SAG senior staff, she has complained of staff altering rules during meetings, and not providing union documents on request.

During his interview, Hinnant complained that Scarola and her supporters on the board "don't understand Roberts' Rules of Order or the way the guild has been functioning over all the years."

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