The nasty race for the national leadership of SAG-AFTRA ended Thursday with Fran Drescher winning the presidency of the actors’ union for the Unite for Strength party while Joely Fisher, of the Membership First slate, took the number two position of secretary-treasurer.
Nanny star Drescher beat the Membership First candidate, Full Metal Jacket’s Matthew Modine, by 52.5 to 47.5 percent of the vote, while Modine’s running mate, Hollywood royal Fisher, defeated Drescher’s ballot partner, Star Trek: Discovery star Anthony Rapp, by 57.7 to 42.3 percent, Variety reports.
The bitter contest centered on the union’s health insurance plan after the eligibility criteria was tightened last August, forcing out more than 12,000 mostly elderly actors. While the Uniters—who’ve been in power since 2009—have not come out in support of that decision, they have said the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan is a separate entity from the union, which appoints 20 of its 38 trustees.
The Membership Firsters contend that Unite for Strength has not been up front with members about the plan’s fate and have backed a lawsuit brought by the late Ed Asner and other plan participants blaming the crisis on the merger of SAG and AFTRA.
Drescher has called the suit “frivolous.” Fisher, meanwhile, said during the campaign that Drescher “is a shiny object. She’s an accomplished human being. She’s a survivor. She’s talented. She’s a producer. She’s a lot of things. Should she be leading the union? Absolutely not.”
At times, the race drifted far from the topic of health care, with members of Drescher’s party accusing their rivals of making death threats, denying that George Floyd was murdered, and even being in the NXIVM sex cult. Membership First has countered by claiming that Drescher has said there’s a link between 5G cell phone technology and cancer.
Both sides have denied all dueling allegations and are now talking reconciliation.
In a statement Thursday, Drescher said, “Together we will navigate through these troubled times of global health crisis and together we will rise up out of the melee to do what we do best, entertain and inform. Only as a united front will we have strength against the real opposition in order to achieve what we all want: more benefits, stronger contracts and better protections. Let us lock elbows and together show up with strength at the negotiating table!”
Joely said in her own statement that it’s time to “bridge the divide,” but warned, “I will hold Fran Drescher to her promise to us to protect the members and put more money in our pockets through stronger contract negotiations.”
Although Unite for Strength retains the presidency, Membership First swept all three elections in the Los Angeles local, which accounts for about half of all SAG-AFTRA members, while Unite for Strength won the New York local presidency and all four vice president positions.
Still, no one can claim a mandate. Of 122,154 ballots mailed to members, only 32,362 of them—26.5 percent—actually voted.