by David Robb
January 24, 2018 12:18pm
A former SAG-AFTRA presidential candidate is accusing the union’s leadership of playing politics with safety. Local board member Peter Antico, a stuntman who finished third in the presidential race last year, has filed a complaint with the union and the Secretary of Labor claiming that the union’s newly formed safety commission has been stacked with political allies of SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris and that too few of them have any expertise in stunts or safety.
In October, the highly politicized union established the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety in response to last year’s deaths of stunt performers on the sets of The Walking Dead and Deadpool 2. It has yet to meet, but a list of the Commission’s members, obtained by Deadline, shows that 10 of its 13 members and alternates were supporters of Carteris in last year’s bitterly contested election and that only three of them are stunt professionals.
A spokesperson for the union said that Carteris selected the appointees to the Commission and that the national board approved the recommendations at its meeting in October. “She chose SAG-AFTRA members from around the country who work tirelessly on behalf of the membership and are serious about ensuring safe workplaces,” the spokesperson said.
The union already has a long-established National Stunt and Safety Committee, which investigates stunt-related accidents, but the Commission has a broader mandate: to look out for the welfare and safety concerns of all members — not just stunt performers.
Announcing the formation of the Commission in November, Carteris said: “Our industry has undergone significant change, and it only makes sense to review our safety practices to ensure the well-being of our members and others on the set. There is more to be done by all of us to ensure the safety of all performers working in our industry.”
Chaired by Carteris, the Commission is made up of eight members and five alternates. Of the eight regular members, only one – stunt woman Jane Austin – opposed Carteris’ re-election. Austin, who ran on the opposition party’s Membership First slate, was elected national secretary-treasurer and president of the Los Angeles local.
The Commission’s other seven regular members – including Carteris – are either members of her ruling Unite for Strength (UFS) party or endorsed her in the last election. The only other stunt performer among the eight is Emmy-winning stunt coordinator Cort Hessler, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the union’s national board last year on the United Screen Actors Nationwide ticket, a slate in New York that is closely aligned with Carteris’ camp and endorsed her re-election.
The other regular members of the Commission are all Carteris supporters: actor Jon Huertas, who was elected to the national board as part of Carteris’ UFS team; Samantha Mathis, a SAG-AFTRA national vice president; actress Marisol Nichols, who in 2013 ran for a national board seat on the Unite for Strength ticket; actor Mike Pniewski, first vice president of the SAG-AFTRA Atlanta local; and actress Danielle Towne, who was elected to the local board in Los Angeles on the UFS slate.
Of the Commission’s five alternates, only one is a stunt performer – Debbie Evans, who was elected to the local L.A. board last year on the opposition’s Membership First slate. The other alternates are actresses Lisa Vidal and Linda Powell, who were elected to the national board on Carteris’ UFS slate; actress Andrea Powell, who endorsed Carteris last year and whose acting career has been almost exclusively in low-budget short films; and Linda Harcharic, a supporter of Membership First who has worked mostly as a background performer.
Harcharic, a former local board member, said she was notified by Carteris on October 26 that the national board had approved her appointment to serve as a member or alternate on the Commission. She said she didn’t request the appointment and assumes she was asked to serve because of the work she’s done for many years on behalf of her fellow background performers. “We are the most vulnerable,” she said, “because we have the least power on the set.”
So far, however, the Commission has yet to meet. “I have not been notified of any meetings,” she said. “I called the union, and they said it plans to meet before the next national board meeting in February. I have still not been notified of any meeting being scheduled.”
Antico also maintains that Carteris was playing politics when she removed him from the guild’s National Stunt and Safety Committee after he lost the election to her last year.
Antico, a frequent critic of the guild’s leadership, said in his complaint that Carteris vetoed two “highly accredited and esteemed stunt coordinators” whose names had been put forth to serve on her Blue Ribbon Commission and instead stacked it with her political allies and “background artists, singers and actors who have never been responsible for safety on any set and are not trained therein.” All this, he said, violates federal labor law and “goes against the purpose of this vapid press pandering action and evidences that this [Commission] is purely political and has nothing to do with safety.”
Antico, Harcharic said, “is very upset about all of this, and I understand his position entirely.”
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the avalanche of allegations of sexual abuse in the industry that followed, the union established a Sexual Harassment Work Group that has become a subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety.
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