By Todd Cunningham
Ken Howard made history Thursday, defeating Esai Morales to become president of a combined SAG-AFTRA in the first national election since Hollywood’s two largest labor unions merged last year.
Ballots for the national officers election were mailed to 139,967 eligible voters on July 16, and 28,755 were returned by Thursday’s deadline, for a return of 20.54 percent.
Howard received 16,396 votes, with Esai Morales receiving 9,850 votes, Paul Edney receiving 1,359 votes and Marilyn Monrovia receiving 960 votes. In the election for secretary-treasurer, Howard’s running mate Amy Aquino was elected with 17,590 votes and Jane Austin, Morales’ running mate, received 10,662 votes.
“I’m gratified that members across the country have reelected me to lead our union and continue building on the strong foundation we created through merger,” Howard (photo left) said. “I want to congratulate Secretary-Treasurer Amy Aquino on her reelection and offer my sincere thanks to all the candidates who ran for office.
“I look forward to joining the delegates who will assemble in Los Angeles for the first SAG-AFTRA convention in late September, and then moving forward with the new leadership team to do the important work that members have entrusted to us.”
Ballots were still being tabulated for the union’s two largest local elections in Los Angeles and New York.
SAG’s Howard and AFTRA’s Roberta Reardon have been serving as co-presidents since March of last year, when members approved the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Howard, who was elected in 2009 as the 25th and final president of SAG, heads the union’s Unite For Strength slate.
He and that group were strong advocates for the merger, while Morales and his Membership First allies campaigned strongly against it for years. Howard was a heavy favorite going into the vote, based on the 86 percent approval vote on the merger.
With negotiations with the TV networks and movie studios coming up next year, voters in the 165,000-strong union opted for the status quo in electing Howard to a two-year term. No date has been set for the start of talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for the successor to the current master contract, which expires June 30.
Howard stressed his experience during the campaign and pointed to his leadership in helping to seal the deal for merger and negotiate the union’s TV commercials pact with advertisers earlier this year.
Morales (photo right) campaigned on a platform calling for more transparency on the guild’s finances and citing slow payment of residuals, the erosion of standards for middle-class actors and the closure of 10 branch offices as examples of the disconnect between the current leadership and membership.
This election creates a permanent governance structure with 70 board seats allotted for the 22 locals; Los Angeles has 28 seats and New York 16. A total of 10 national officers will also serve on the national board bringing its total size to 80.
A working actor for more than 40 years, Howard has an extensive resume that includes work on television, movies and the stage, including the recent movie “ACOD,” which premiered at Sundance Film Festival. An Emmy and Tony Award winner, he helped create and starred in TV’s “The White Shadow” from 1978-1982, and has had recurring roles on “30 Rock,” “Dynasty,” “Melrose Place” and “Crossing Jordan.”