Actress Melissa Gilbert on Tuesday won a starring role as president of the Screen Actors Guild for the second time, a victory for a less strident wing of the 118,000-member union.
The election comes as SAG is on the verge of forging a new three-year contract with advertisers that could be announced as early as today. SAG and advertisers started formal negotiations only Tuesday, although union and company representatives have been crafting a deal behind the scenes the last few weeks.
The last time the two sides bargained, in 2000, SAG launched a six-month strike, the longest in Hollywood history. The expected deal would replace a contract expiring Oct. 29. Health-care issues have been among the top concerns.
Gilbert was reelected with 50% of the vote in an election that underscored SAG’s continued divisiveness.
Challenger Kent McCord received 42% of the vote. Gordon Drake got 8%.
Also elected was Gilbert’s running mate, actor James Cromwell, whose principal challenger was actor Esai Morales for secretary-treasurer.
Gilbert’s reelection means that there will be a new push almost immediately to combine SAG with its sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
“I think this is a vote of confidence in us to go ahead with a new form of consolidation,” Gilbert said.
“Our members believe in what I believe in, and in the work we are doing.”
Supporters of the plan argue that a combined union is needed to more effectively bargain with a media industry that continues to merge into larger behemoths.
In July, more than 57% of SAG’s members voted for a proposal that would have folded SAG and AFTRA into an umbrella union representing actors, recording artists and broadcasters.
The plan didn’t pass because 60% approval was needed.
SAG also is facing negotiations with studios next year over a new contract for actors in films and TV shows. Those talks are expected to be stickier than the commercials pact because actors believe studios should be more generous in sharing the riches they are getting in the booming DVD business. The contract expires next summer, with talks expected to start in a few months.
Gilbert is best known for starring as a child in the 1970s television series “Little House on the Prairie.” She defeated actress Valerie Harper to win her first term.
A longtime SAG activist best known for starring in the police drama “Adam-12,” McCord had argued that the union shouldn’t hesitate to flex its muscle. He had said that a consolidated union would diminish SAG’s autonomy.
Drake, who sought to position himself as the moderate alternative to Gilbert and McCord, played a major role in SAG’s 2000 strike and frequently acts in commercials.