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SAG-AFTRA election board finds KTLA, Modine-led group broke rules

Actor Matthew Modine, holding a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Actor Matthew Modine, at the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2017, is running for the presidency of SAG-AFTRA alongside Joely Fisher as secretary-treasurer.
(Emma McIntyre)

A SAG-AFTRA national election committee has found that a candidate interview conducted by KTLA journalist Sam Rubin violated its rules.

The committee concluded that Rubin’s Aug. 4 interview of SAG-AFTRA secretary-treasurer candidate Joely Fisher on the L.A.-based TV network breached a federal law that prohibits employer resources from being used to promote candidates during an election.

Rubin is running for a seat on SAG-AFTRA’s Los Angeles board as part of the same slate — known as Membership First — backing Matthew Modine, who is running for president, and Fisher.

The committee said that even though Rubin disclosed on his KTLA show his candidacy and affiliation with Membership First , his interview with Fisher on KTLA’s airtime was a violation.

“By permitting an employee running for office to interview and promote a candidate running on the same slate during work time, while displaying the MF campaign logo and website address during the interview, KTLA crossed the line,” the committee said.

Rubin declined to comment, as did a spokesperson for KTLA.

A legal advisor to Modine said the allegation was baseless.

“The election committee, which is made up entirely of members selected by outgoing SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who is the leader of Unite for Strength, is being used as nothing more than a political bludgeon against Membership First and this election,” said Robert Allen, partner at law firm Glaser Weil.

Modine, known for portraying Private Joker in the 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket,” is running against “The Nanny’s” Fran Drescher in an election that will be decided next month by the guild’s 160,000 performers, actors and broadcast journalists.

The committee’s decision followed a protest filed earlier this month by the Unite For Strength group, which dominates the union and is backed by Carteris, who is not seeking re-election.

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“As someone who cares deeply about our union, I am so disheartened to learn Membership First either willfully broke the law or they have a blatant misunderstanding of the law,” SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer Camryn Manheim, one of the members who filed the protest, said in a statement. “It raises serious questions about their ability and fitness to lead our union.”

Fisher said the claim was spurious and noted that Drescher had conducted high-profile media interviews.

“She’s a famous person using the media,” Fisher said. “We are attempting to do the same thing.”

In July, Carteris, the “Beverly Hills 90210” star, declared her support for Drescher and running mate Anthony Rapp, a veteran TV, film and theater actor running for national secretary-treasurer. Carteris defeated Modine in 2019, after a highly contentious campaign that highlighted deep divisions in the union, which remain.

Modine and his supporters argue that the current leadership negotiated weak contracts and adopted changes that cost members healthcare coverage.

The election has attracted stars on both sides. Sharon Stone is running as a national board member on the Membership First slate. Tom Hanks is among the big names who threw his weight behind Unite for Strength.

Federal labor prohibits union candidates from receiving and using cash or in-kind contributions from any employer. According to a U.S. Department of Labor manual, “no employer may contribute cash or anything of value to the campaign of any candidate.”

The question of how resources are used in the SAG-AFTRA elections has come up before.

When he previously ran for election, Modine was criticized by labor law experts and opponents for using videos made for him at no cost for his election campaign by the for-profit school New York Film Academy, according to a Times report.

NYFA promoted Modine and his candidacy and produced the videos ahead of the election, won by Carteris. The school and Modine’s campaign acknowledged that NYFA provided the videos to him for free but denied they did anything wrong. A spokesman for Modine at the time said the videos were not a legal violation because they were intended as public service announcements and were educational, not political.

The election committee said this week it considered the time, tone and content of the broadcasts, noting both interviews took place at times that could have influenced the election — shortly after ballots were sent to members on Aug. 3 and before the Sept. 2 deadline for members of Hollywood’s biggest union to submit their votes.

The committee also considered that the interviews took place using KTLA resources, an employer, and a journalist, Rubin, who was not neutral. Moreover, during the interview Fisher made comments that denigrated rival candidates, it said, adding that requests for equal airtime by members of the Unite for Strength group were denied by KTLA.

Additionally, the committee said it encouraged KTLA to post a statement during its airtime and on its website that it was providing access to Unite for Strength members to cure a federal labor law violation.

If KTLA does not provide equal access and issue a statement, the committee said it will have to determine whether the violation had an impact on the election once the ballots are counted.


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