Fran Drescher faces leadership test as A-listers pressure SAG-AFTRA to strike a deal

In her two years as SAG-AFTRA president has worked diligently to bridge the factional differences that have long plagued the union.

“Member unity will be my greatest legacy,” she promised in her campaign statement this summer, seeking re-election. (She was re-elected with more than 80% of the vote.)

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But as the SAG-AFTRA strike approaches the 100-day mark, Drescher faces her toughest leadership test yet: Can she hold the union together long enough to deliver the “game-changing” deal she promised members?

A group of top actors led by George Clooney met with her and the union’s top negotiator on Tuesday. Although the A-listers were keen to support, the underlying message was that they desperately want to get Hollywood back to work and aren’t sure the guild is on the right track to achieving that.

The group, which also included Ben Affleck, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson, put forward a proposal to increase contributions for high-earning actors and restructure the remaining amounts to benefit the lower end of the income scale.

When the A-listers were gently rebuffed, they could have remained calm. Instead, Clooney went public with his idea — an obvious challenge to Drescher and the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee and a potential sign that union solidarity is beginning to crumble.

Drescher recorded an Instagram video on Thursday in which she explained Clooney’s duel idea wouldn’t workis prohibited by federal law and does not affect the subjects of the negotiations.

As for his remaining suggestion, she said: “Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold water.”

Drescher then tried to shift the focus back to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which represents the studios — and her own idea for a new form of streaming residual that she envisions as a game-changer for actors.

“We cracked the code to something. “We have recognized the error of this streaming model,” she said, saying CEOs must accept an “unprecedented compensation structure.” “It may not be easy. It may not be what they want. But it is an elegant way to solve the problem so that we can all get back to work in an environment that would become the new normal.”

SAG-AFTRA then issued a written memo to members on Thursday evening, again thanking the Clooney group for their “ideas and support,” but also explaining why those ideas would not work.

The memo also noted that the A-listers are talking to studio heads – suggesting they may be trying to bypass the negotiating committee.

“The fact that the heads of broadcasters, streaming companies and studios are open to direct communication with them is great,” the union said. “But leaders should not for a second believe that they can use the goodwill of member emissaries to distract us from our mission.”

The union also sent a clear message to stakeholders about how they can best help: “Therefore, for now, we encourage all members to support our full package of proposals and stand on the strike line.”

SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in an interview Thursday that the Clooney group’s efforts should not be seen as undermining union solidarity.

“Different people may perceive it differently,” he said. “But from my perspective, the conversations I’ve had with members across the spectrum of our membership have always been about the question, ‘What can we do to move this forward?’ And if they have great ideas, I definitely want to hear them.”

The CEOs are also eager to get back to work, but have concluded that as long as the union demands half a billion dollars in streaming residuals per year – on top of the streaming residuals that actors already receive, and the percentage increases achieved by the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America – the talks are going nowhere.

Privately, they have grumbled that Drescher appeared to be on a crusade to redistribute wealth rather than reach a workable deal.

Meanwhile, Drescher is working to keep members together and convince them to stay on track.

“This too will pass,” she said Thursday. “But this is the moment when we don’t give in to the pressure. This is the moment we stand tall and remain steadfast.”

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