SAG-AFTRA announced on Thursday evening that “Hotel Transylvania” actress Fran Drescher has been named the next president of the actors guild, defeating Membership First candidate Matthew Modine and succeeding outgoing five-year president Gabrielle Carteris, who endorsed her in a heated campaign.
But in a surprise split ticket result, Modine’s running mate Joely Fisher was victorious in her campaign for SAG-AFTRA secretary-treasurer, defeating Drescher’s Unite For Strength running mate Anthony Rapp. Drescher received 16,958 votes compared to 15,371 votes for Modine, while Fisher received 18,547 votes to Rapp’s 13,593 votes.
Drescher’s victory means that Unite For Strength will hold on to its control of the guild presidency as it has since 2009. Along with Carteris, Drescher received support from top actors like Tom Hanks as she promoted her campaign via upbeat videos and Instagram posts, saying that while she has never held a union office, she will use her experience as an activist and lobbyist for causes such as cancer treatment and sexual abuse survivor support.”
As president, she aims to increase benefits from dues, gain stronger contributions from studios as the streaming era forges on, and build on Carteris’ development of an intimacy coordinator network and a system to report sexual abuse on sets.
“I am honored to serve my union in this capacity. Together we will navigate through these troubled times of global health crisis and together we will rise up out of the melee to do what we do best, entertain and inform,” Drescher said in a statement following her victory. “Today marks the beginning of a fresh start, let us forge forward in a holistic and non-partisan ascension towards the precipice of a new dawn. Only as a united front will we have strength against the real opposition in order to achieve what we all want: more benefits, stronger contracts and better protections.”
But Drescher will also have to address the year-long battle within the guild over changes made to its health plan, most notably the removal of residuals as qualifying wages towards the plan’s minimum earnings requirements. Fisher has been one of the foremost critics of guild leadership and the health plan’s trustees, saying that the changes fly in the face of promises that the health plan was financially sound when the plans for SAG and AFTRA members were merged.
Unite For Strength has insisted that the changes were necessary to preserve the plan’s financial solvency and were made by the plan’s 38 trustees, who are separate from the guild presidency and comprise of 18 trustees chosen by the studios. UFS has also pointed to options that Carteris and guild leadership have formed to help make up for Medicare supplement coverage once covered by the health plan, including a joint program with the AFL-CIO.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed against the health plan trustees by 10 SAG-AFTRA members, including the late Ed Asner, is moving forward after a judge denied a motion to dismiss by the trustees. The lawsuit claims that the health plan changes “illegally discriminate based on age and violate the Age Discrimination and Employment Act of 1967” and are a violation of the trustees’ fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
“To our members, I want to thank you for your vote of confidence. I look forward to getting us back to solid financial footing and to be a part of strong negotiations moving forward,” said Fisher. “It is bittersweet that my running mate, Matthew Modine, won’t be by my side, but I will work to uphold our vision of bettering our union. I will hold Fran Drescher to her promise to us to protect the members and put more money in our pockets through stronger contract negotiations.”
“Again, I want to thank you for entrusting me with the stewardship of this union,” she added. “Let’s get to work to bridge the divide and make the lives of our sisters and brothers in our SAG-AFTRA union family better.”
As election rivals prepare to lead a guild that represents over 160,000 members, Carteris issued a farewell statement on Thursday thanking the SAG-AFTRA membership and reflecting on her five-year tenure as president.
“New technologies are dramatically changing our work; that is inevitable. I urge us all to continue to find ways to adapt and grow, even when it is frightening. We must always stand together, raise each other up, learn from each other and refuse to let those who would degrade what we build tear us down and dishearten us,” she wrote. “If we continue being strategic, thoughtful and collaborative, I believe we will continue to grow stronger and further expand our protection of SAG-AFTRA members. As Rachel Lambert Mellon said, ‘Part of creating is understanding there is more to do; nothing is ever completely finished.'”