August 1, 2017 | 12:29PM PT

SAG-AFTRA’s election has gone into the hot zone with adversaries denouncing each other in a bid to sway the 144,000 performer members.

The key race is for the presidency, with incumbent Gabrielle Carteris heading the Unite for Strength slate and facing a challenge from Esai Morales as head of the Membership First faction along with independents Pete Antico, Robert Martin Jr., and Marilyn Monrovia.

Carteris is pushing for members to ratify the union’s new three-year tentative deal with production companies covering film and primetime TV work. Morales and Antico are campaigning against ratification, saying the contract falls particularly short in travel provisions, basic cable, and residuals

Ballots on ratification are due on Aug. 7 while the elections ballots are due Aug. 24.

“Our current leadership tells you that everything is great,” the Membership First site reads. “You know better. So do we. We tell you the truth.”

Morales has told Variety that Carteris is using her post as president inappropriately — particularly in her July 15 decision at the national board meeting when she ruled a motion out of order to include a minority report as part of the ratification ballot materials. SAG-AFTRA rules require a minority report when the board vote on a contract is 25% against — 2% above the 23% “No” vote on the deal on July 15.

“I think that Gabrielle should have recused herself rather than ruling the motion out of order, given that she’s running for president at the same time,” Morales said. “I find it disconcerting. If the new contract is so great, then why not have the full disclosure to members?”

Carteris responded Tuesday with a salvo against Membership First in what she called an “Urgent” message.

“Let me get straight to the point,” she said. “While SAG-AFTRA has achieved many crucial gains since merger, our prosperity and stability are at risk in the current election. Thankfully, you have the power to keep our union on a prosperous path… but only if you exercise your right to vote. MEMBERSHIP FIRST… STILL WRONG.”

“SAG-AFTRA members demanded merger and have overwhelmingly approved every contract we’ve negotiated,” she said. “Incredibly, Membership First is still trying to convince members that their wrong-headed, divisive approach is the way to go. Use your vote today to tell Membership First they are still wrong.”

The two sides have been battling for nearly a decade, dating back to 2008 when self-styled progressives of Membership First lost control of the SAG board. Unite for Strength, led by Ken Howard, advocated a pragmatic non-confrontational approach and pushed hard for merger with AFTRA. Membership First filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to prevent voting on the 2012 merger, alleging that its impact on the pension and health plans had not been fully assessed.

Carteris brought up those events in her message. “MF bitterly opposed merger and tried to keep members from even voting on it!” she said. “UFS has negotiated contracts that have put more than one billion additional dollars in members’ pockets. MF failed disastrously in the last TV/Theatrical negotiation they attempted, costing members more than $100 million.

The union election also covers election of many of the members of the 80-seat national board. Unite for Strength and its allies control the board while Membership First has about a dozen seats.

SAG-AFTRA has about 160,000 members. Ballots went out only to members who were paid up on their dues. The film-TV deal, reached on July 4, covers more than $1 billion in annual earnings by members.

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