Two challengers in the SAG-AFTRA election are urging the union to bring in an outside mediator to help resolve the actors strike, which has gone on for nearly two months.
Maya Gilbert-Dunbar, who is running against Fran Drescher for president of the union, argued that guild leadership has been too passive, and needs to show more urgency in restarting talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
“Chain your asses up to the damn door of the Sherman Oaks building to show how serious you are,” Gilbert-Dunbar said. “People’s can’t afford this. Strikes were never meant to last months and months. An effective strike should be short and sweet.”
Gilbert-Dunbar is running alongside Peter Antico, who is running for secretary-treasurer. In an interview, Antico echoed Gilbert-Dunbar’s criticism.
“I don’t believe Fran is taking the correct course,” Antico said. “You can’t make any decisions with emotion. You have to have a neutral third party. You need to bring in a calm voice that would help mediate it.”
Drescher, who was first elected in 2021, is leading the union through its first strike against the major studios in 43 years. The union is demanding protections against the use and training of artificial intelligence, as well as an 11% increase in minimum rates and 2% of streaming revenue.
The union membership voted 98% in favor of the strike authorization, suggesting that the membership is broadly aligned behind the goals of the strike. Drescher has repeatedly denounced the heads of the major studios, calling Disney CEO Bob Iger an “ignoramus,” and saying that the companies are motivated by greed.
In an interview with NPR this week, Drescher said that the companies “are not wanting to come to the table because they’re hoping that they can hold out longer than we can hold out.”
She also said the companies have displayed an “insatiable appetite for money,” and that they need to realize that actors are not “serfs” or “peons.”
“They’re still not seeing that the culture needs to change, that they need to change,” she said.
Drescher and her running mate, Joely Fisher, are expected to win reelection. The results are due to be announced late Friday afternoon.
SAG-AFTRA elections have long been fought out between two political parties. Unite for Strength, the moderate faction, has tended to dominate the national board, while Membership First, the more militant wing, controls the Los Angeles local.
Drescher represents Unite for Strength, while Fisher belongs to Membership First. The two parties decided to back a “unity slate” for the 2023 election, because they did not want to wage an internal battle amid a strike.
“The leaders of the negotiating committee and the leaders of the groups were and are laser-focused on the negotiation and the strike, and do not want any distraction,” said Sean Astin, who is aligned with Membership First and serves on the negotiating committee.
But some members — largely from Membership First — have split off to run as “independents.” Matthew Modine, the Membership First candidate for president in 2021, is now running for the Los Angeles board as an independent.
“Membership First no longer exists,” said Modine’s publicist, Adam Nelson, in an email.
Many of the independent candidates — including Gilbert-Dunbar and Antico — were opposed to the studios’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate and believe the union should have done more to stand up for actors who did not want to be vaccinated.
Gilbert-Dunbar’s husband sued Disney in 2022 after he was fired from the show “9-1-1” because he would not get vaccinated.
Drescher was also among the minority of the SAG-AFTRA national board who raised objections to the vaccine mandate, noting members’ health concerns.
The mandate has since been lifted, but Gilbert-Dunbar said she continues to be concerned that the union did not try to negotiate for accommodations for unvaccinated actors.
“Until we recognize the failures we had during the pandemic, it’ll never be over for me,” she said. “How can I trust you to negotiate some damn residuals, when you didn’t even negotiate to protect my body?”
Drescher and Fisher did not respond to requests for comment about the election. In her candidate statement, Drescher argued that she is leading the union toward a “seminal” agreement, and that “Member unity will be my greatest legacy.”
Drescher’s supporters say she has brokered peace among the union’s warring factions and helped focus on the real opponent: the studios.
“Fran came in with a new mindset,” Astin said. “She did not want to hear about slates… ‘If you have a beef, take it outside.’”
Caitlin Dulany, who is also on the negotiating committee, said members from the two parties have worked collaboratively throughout the talks, and she expects that collaborative spirit to be reflected in the election results.
“I would very much like to see the party system disappear,” Dulany said. “I see this is as the beginning of that falling away.”