Battle lines drawn at SAG


Opposing factions will again fight for control of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), with Alan Rosenberg bowing out after his stormy presidency. Ken Howard will seek to consolidate power for the Unite for Strength group, which now holds a majority of the national board, while Anne-Marie Johnson will carry the flag for Rosenberg’s Membership First faction. And there are two other candidates thrown into the mix.
Hoping to be the spoiler is Seymour Cassel, who is running as a candidate independent of either faction. He narrowly lost to Rosenberg two years ago before the union became deeply divided by contract negotiations with the Hollywood studios. Cassel is hardly a shrinking violet. He was found guilty of “conduct unbecoming” of a SAG member by a union trial board after a boisterous confrontation with SAG staffers at a May informational meeting in Los Angeles. He has appealed that ruling, which would make him ineligible to hold office, and threatened to take the union to court if he was not allowed on the ballot.

The fourth candidate is Asmar Muhammad, a young actor whose movie credits go back only about four years. We found a clip of him on YouTube as “Sam the Hit Man” in the 2006 film “Sign.”

“This election offers members a stark choice between two leadership approaches – attempt to go it alone or unite for strength,” said a statement by Unite for Strength candidate Ken Howard. “From 2005 through 2008, SAG experienced the divisive, go-it-alone approach of Membership First. They went to war with AFTRA, sought to marginalize New York and the branches, and repeatedly alienated other entertainment unions.  Under Membership First’s leadership, SAG failed to successfully negotiate a single contract in 2008, which cost our members tens of millions of dollars. To make matters worse, it caused producers to take most new television production to AFTRA, resulting in still more lost work and benefits for SAG members,” he said.

“With increasing consolidation of media companies and new technologies transforming our business, we will pay dearly if we’re not smart and strategic about our future. I’m running for president as a Unite for Strength candidate because I believe the only way actors will get our fair share of the pie is if we’re united both internally and with our labor partners. If SAG members elect me and my fellow Unite for Strength candidates, we’ll make a clean break with the divisive leadership approach of Membership First and focus on building maximum unity with AFTRA and other entertainment guilds to give us real power when we sit down to negotiate contracts,” Howard said on the Unite for Strength website. The group has Amy Aquino as its candidate for Secretary-Treasurer and will also field 33 candidates from the Hollywood Division for seats on the Board of Directors. The latter election is for 11 members and 22 alternates.

Membership First is having a martini fundraiser tomorrow (8/13) at the home of Nancy Sinatra, with such notables as Ed Asner, Valerie Harper and Martin Sheen on hand to boost the candidacy of  Anne-Marie Johnson.

“I am very honored to be asked to run for president of the Screen Actors Guild. I realize the enormity of this responsibility and after spending 12 years on the national board I am prepared and ready to serve our members, placing their best interests first. I am also very excited to be running with Connie Stevens. She’s been a loyal SAG member for over 50 years and honored for her talent and business acumen. Membership First has a great slate and we look forward to running a pro-active and informative campaign,” says a statement from Johnson on the group’s website. Stevens is the Membership First candidate for Secretary-Treasurer and the group is also fielding a full slate of candidates for the Hollywood Division election, including outgoing SAG President Alan Rosenberg.

Seven national board seats will also be elected from SAG Branches outside Hollywood. Mitchell Green and Mike Hodge are vying for President of the New York Division.

RBR/TVBR observation: It’s worth noting that Johnson recently won election to the AFTRA national board as well, as the Membership First group from SAG seeks to radicalize the competing actors union as well.