EXCLUSIVE, UPDATED with Unite for Strength response: Adam Nelson has filed a 13-count complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor protesting SAG-AFTRA’s recent election. Nelson was the campaign manager for Matthew Modine, who lost the presidential race to incumbent Gabrielle Carteris.
Nelson’s complaints had previously been dismissed by the union’s national election committee, and now that he’s exhausted all internal union remedies, he’s is taking his protest to the DOL. Thirteen other union members also had their protests dismissed by the union’s national election committee, and many of them are filing complaints with the DOL as well.
A spokesman for the Unite for Strength ruling party Wednesday called the protesters “sore losers,” and their complaints “baseless.” See the full statement below.
Nelson’s complaint, written by his attorney, Robert Allen, alleges that “blatant election violations” occurred and that the union’s election committee “has chosen to turn a blind eye to this impropriety and instead serve as a rubber stamp on the incumbent Ms. Carteris’ malfeasance. The union is in dire need of new leadership and a thorough review by the Office of Labor-Management Standards to ensure that it is once again run for the benefit of its members.”
His laundry list of complaints include allegations that Carteris violated federal election law by using the union’s website and magazine to promote her candidacy. “While Ms. Carteris, as president, has the right to create content for the union, she cannot coordinate a campaign to inundate the union’s website with materials that promote her at the kickoff of the election season.”
He also complained that video loops played in the union’s common areas during the election “predominantly” included images of Carteris and her Unite for Strength running mates to the exclusion of images of Modine and his Membership First running mates. “Notably, not one of the played videos included a Membership First candidate, including MF candidates that were union officials involved in newsworthy union activities.”
Nelson noted in his DOL complaint that the election committee dismissed his protest of these videos “through illogical reasoning and application of the wrong standard. First, the committee claims that it did ‘not find the timing of the loop to be problematic, as the loop has consistently run since at least 2012.’ But that makes no sense. The issue is not whether there existed a loop of videos from 2012, but whether the particular videos in the loop were timed to coincide with the election. This argument is analogous to claiming that a particular edition of a union newspaper could not possibly be a violation because the newspaper itself has been in circulation for decades.
“Second, the committee does not deny that Ms. Carteris is the one predominately displayed in the video loop during the period leading up to the election, but instead argues that none of the videos promote her candidacy or denigrates any other candidates, and that all of the footage of Ms. Carteris is in the context of recent, newsworthy union activities.”
“But that is not the standard,” Nelson claims, citing case law that says that the “overall tone, timing and content must be evaluated to determine whether there is any blatant or subtle encouragement of the incumbents.”
“And that tone, timing and content can lead to the conclusion that an incumbent has used union material as a propaganda campaign tool if the incumbent’s coverage is excessive,” Nelson said in his DOL complaint. “And that is what happened with the use of the looped videos in the union’s common area. The union’s incumbent president, Ms. Carteris, is excessively featured in the loop of videos, while her opponent and members of her opponent’s party are categorically excluded from the videos, even though they are union officers, board members and representatives who were engaged during that same period in newsworthy union events.”
Nelson also complained, as have other protesters, that Carteris received “an improper employer contribution through her work as an executive producer and cast member on Fox’s BH90210, in which she played a version of herself as president of the fictional Actors Guild of America. The show, a reboot of Beverly Hills, 90210, premiered during the union’s election.
In dismissing this claim, the election committee found that “Although the show aired in August 2019, production began significantly before the election. Rather than play their original 90210 characters, the cast members play fictionalized versions of their real-life selves. Consistent with the treatment of all cast members, Carteris’ character on the new series, ‘Gabrielle,’ is partially based on her current life. In the new series, Carteris is the president of a fictional union, ‘Actors Guild of America,’ a reference to Carteris’ position as the SAG-AFTRA president. The primary character arc of ‘Gabrielle,’ however, focuses on her becoming a grandmother and exploring her sexuality.”
“We have reviewed the clips provided by the protesters, which total approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds out of a total of six 43-minute episodes,” the election committee found. “The clips do not refer to ‘Gabrielle’ running for union office or to an internal union election. There is nothing that occurs on the series that can even remotely be considered to be promoting Carteris’ candidacy. A fictionalized reference to an incumbent candidate’s union position in the context of a dramatic television series, standing alone, simply does not violate Section 401(g)” of the of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
Nelson claims the scenes in which Carteris is portrayed as a hardworking president of the ‘Actors Guild of America’ “were effectively a blatant national commercial for her union re-election campaign,” and argues that Title IV of the LMRDA “precludes any employer from contributing monies or in-kind benefits to promote the candidacy of any person in an election. There can be no question that FOX is an employer, and that if the offending episode contributed to Ms. Carteris’ campaign in any way, then Section 401(g) was violated.”
And like several other protesters, Nelson also told the DOL that Carteris used “insider and highly confidential information” when she devoted a third of her official campaign statement to the union’s new Netflix agreement – a deal that wasn’t officially announced until three weeks after the deadline for submission of candidates’ statements. Nelson maintains that this gave her an unfair advantage – to campaign on an issue that other candidates didn’t know about in time to address in their own official campaign statements. The union’s election committee, however, determined that her reference to the Netflix deal in her candidate’s statement “had no impact on the outcome of the election.”
The election committee was wrong about that, Nelson told the DOL, because “had Ms. Carteris not exploited a union asset (the confidential information about Netflix) in her campaign statement…then her campaign statement, which went out to every voting member of the union, would not have included this information.”
Nelson also claims that the union subjected Modine supporters to “unlawful reprisals”; that Carteris and other union officials made “false allegations against Membership First candidates”; that Carteris made “defamatory statements” about Modine; and that Carteris supporters engaged in “illegal and unethical electioneering.”
Nelson claims the election committee dismissed all of his claims “without conducting any substantive investigation.”
In refuting the allegations, a UFS spokesperson again accused Nelson of re-tweeting a “death threat” against Carteris – an allegation he flatly denies. The spokesperson also cited an election committee ruling that overturned the local election in New Orleans after finding that Modine had received an improper in-kind campaign contribution from a local distillery there.
“It’s both astonishing and deeply distressing that Membership First continues to ignore decades of legal precedent, and remains committed to flagrantly wasting the hard-earned dues money of working class SAG-AFTRA members,” the UFS said this evening. “This kind of partisan whining and clear commitment to dragging SAG-AFTRA through the mud, is exactly why Matthew Modine and his Membership First faction was roundly defeated across the country.
“This baseless distraction harms our membership, and attempts to prevent us from doing the vital work members elected their leadership to do.
“This is yet more poor judgment and destructive behavior from Membership First’s publicist Adam Nelson, who repeatedly liked and retweeted a death threat against President Carteris.
“Let’s be clear, the elections committee is made up of 100% nonpartisan members, and was unanimously approved by the National Board, including Membership First board members. This nonpartisan committee, through extensive consultation with outside legal counsel, has definitively concluded, ‘we dismiss all the post-election protests.”
“In fact, the only proven violations of SAG-AFTRA election law were committed by Membership First, as demonstrated by the ruling in NOLA. A duly appointed election committee in New Orleans found that their brazen election violations indeed warranted a rerun of the election: ‘We conclude that there were improper employer contributions made that benefited the NOLA Slate for Change, that these contributions violated the Election Policy and federal law, and that the violations may have affected the outcome of the election.’
“If it weren’t so harmful, it would be comical that Membership First and Adam Nelson refuse to accept the law when their own use of illegal campaign contributions through multiple New York Film Academy videos – which received tens of thousands of impressions – were indeed additional violations of federal law.
“SAG-AFTRA members are helped not through frivolous legal complaints, but by volunteer leaders actually showing up and doing the work. While Matthew Modine was rejected as our union’s president, he was elected to the Local and National Boards. And yet, he has already failed to attend even the first Local Board meeting, the first two National Board meetings, and was equally absent from the entire four-day National Convention.
“We refuse to let a small group of sore losers distract us from the important work of protecting and enhancing the lives and careers of our members.”
The DOL rarely overturns union elections, but in 2002, it forced the old Screen Actors Guild to rerun its presidential election after it was discovered the union had sent out incorrect ballots to members in New York. Melissa Gilbert, who defeated Valerie Harper in the first race, defeated her again in the rerun.