Tempers flared at a raucous SAG-AFTRA informational meeting in Burbank yesterday when a security guard grabbed presidential candidate Esai Morales and tussled with him, yanking the microphone out of his hands as he tried to speak to the members from the floor about his opposition to the union’s new film and TV contract.
“He snatched the mic out of my hand, and I don’t like it when people to do that,” Morales told Deadline after the meeting. “It was a tussle for the mic. It became a tug of war, and I’m not to be pushed around. I wasn’t there to throw blows; I was there to speak my mind. I was full of adrenaline and I didn’t know where we were going to take this.”
No punches were thrown, but the incident shows the deepening divide within the guild as it holds an election and a contract ratification vote at the same time. “There was much dissension in the room over many issues,” said Peter Antico, who is also running for president of the union.
SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who is seeking re-election, chaired the meeting, and had to call it to order numerous times, warning people they’d be removed from the room if they didn’t stop shouting from the floor.
When chief contract officer Ray Rodriguez spoke, some of the 300 members packed into the ballroom at the Pickwick Gardens Conference Center began shouting their displeasure. One of their chief objections is that the new contract gives up so-called “portal to portal” pay, in which performers on location are paid from the time they are picked up at their hotels each morning until the time they are returned. In its place, the union negotiated what it calls an “historic breakthrough in the rules governing travel for television performers, including an up to five-fold increase in the fees due to series performers who work at locations away from home.”
At the end of the meeting, Carteris began answering written questions submitted by members, but many others wanted to speak to the issues. Members lined up at the microphone, but each was only given one minute to speak.
When it was his turn, Antico, who is running as an independent candidate, spoke out against the contract and the union’s “give away” of portal-to-portal, which had never been codified in past contracts but has been the generally accepted practice for decades.
“When I spoke, I made the economic case against removing portal to portal, which has been honored for over 40 years,” Antico said. “After one minute, Gabrielle said I couldn’t speak anymore. Esai objected. He said, ‘Keep speaking. Don’t allow them to silence you.’ ” Antico surrendered the mic, but turned to the audience and finished the point he’d been making.
Morales, who’s running on the Membership First slate – all of whose members voted against the contract at Saturday’s board meeting, where the new pact was approved 77.4%-22.6% – then got in line to speak. But when it came Morales’ turn, the meeting was declared over.
Not to be silenced, Morales took the mic and began speaking to the crowd. A security guard hired by the union stepped in and tried to grab the microphone from him, and the two men started tussling over it.
“A security guard grabbed him and tried to rip the mike out of his hands,” Antico said. “I told the security guy to back off, to be calm and ethical. I said, ‘Take your hands off this man. This is unethical. Take your hands off him.’ Esai took the mic back but they shut it off and the meeting was over.”
Contacted by Deadline, Morales said he was “disturbed and tired of what appeared to be tactics to limit our speech. I was the only candidate there that didn’t get to speak.” And when he did try to speak, the security guard tried to stop him.
“I am not going to vilify the staff and Gabrielle,” he said. “It’s not easy to do what they do, but I also find it disingenuous of them to talk about unity when they don’t share power or reach across the aisle. They are into consolidating their own power and their spin.”
“I’ve been on the board 17 years and I’ve never lost my cool,” Morales said, “but I was not going to allow this injustice, where certain candidates could speak. It was highly unfair, and I’m about fairness.” Morales, who refrained from speaking out during negotiations, said, “My main job isn’t to campaign for myself, but to do the best I can for the members.”
“This incident is a demonstration of a dictatorship, not a democracy,” Antico said. “The tactics of this leadership is to keep the members uninformed and silent. This meeting is an example of their refusal to allow the members to have an open debate about the issues.”
The contract ratification is being conducted in the middle of a union election, and informational meetings are scheduled in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Miami and Bethesda.
Antico maintains that the union’s rules prohibit union moneys from being spent on electioneering, but that’s what it will be doing if it pays for Carteris to attend upcoming informational meetings at the union’s expense. They only fair thing, he says, would be if the union pay for all the presidential candidates to attend and speak at the meetings. “She’ll be going around the country without a dissenting voice and campaigning for president on the members’ dime, which is against our election rules,” he said. “It’s called electioneering. All SAG-AFTRA presidential candidates should flown and lodged equally to attend these meetings.”
“I’m very concerned that these contract ratification meetings are being conducted during an election,” Morales said, “where the president can go all around the country, campaigning for this contract while the rest of us board members and candidates are being held to confidentiality. I would like equal time to talk about this contract and our platforms.”
“We believe that they’re more interested in selling what they call a ‘good deal’ than listening to the real will of the people,” he said. “They have a platform. They control it all the way up and down, and they do everything that can to control the message. I was just standing up for a dissenting voice.”
The Ol’ SAG Watchdog
*Headline photo was featured in the article