SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher Says She Was Willing To Strike In 2021 Over Covid Vax Mandates


EXCLUSIVE: As SAG-AFTRA prepares for a possible strike next week, Fran Drescher, the guild’s president, said in a recent email chain that she was willing to go on strike in 2021 over Hollywood’s Covid vaccination mandates.

Drescher, who had been the leading voice among union leaders against the mandates, on Thursday told critics who accused her of not doing enough to end them that “If it were up to me, I would have asked to strike over it, but a union cannot strike with a handful of members when repeatedly, even today with all the controversy, the majority as seen in the LA local meeting, overwhelmingly disagree with you or have changed their thinking on this issue.”   

The mandates were approved by the studios, guilds and unions as part of the industry’s Covid return-to-work protocols and allowed employers to require vaccinations as a condition of employment. First implemented in June 2021, the mandates ended, along with all the other protocols, on May 12 of this year.

Last December, writing in the SAG-AFTRA Magazine, she said that “I continue to fight on behalf of our members who feel discriminated against because of the Covid unvaccinated or un-boosted status, which is keeping them from working in major studio productions. For those members not being fairly considered by studios with regards to their religious or health exemptions, help is on the way!”

Her critics on the email chain, which was seen by Deadline, include Maya Dunbar, who is running against her for president; Peter Antico, who is running against incumbent Joely Fisher for secretary-treasurer; and actor Chuck Slavin. Friday was the last day for candidates to file petitions to run for president and secretary-treasurer.

News that Drescher was willing to strike over the mandates is a new twist and comes as many of her members are urging the guild to strike if it can’t reach a deal in ongoing contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that “gets all the way there.” SAG-AFTRA’s contract with the AMPTP had been set to expire June 30 but was extended until July 12 to allow bargaining to continue.

The Nanny star wrote that she had called more special single-item board meetings over the issue of Covid mandates and spent “at least half of my collective time arguing” with staff and the board over the controversial topic. “You can ask any board member how much I did to represent the unvaccinated community, much to the majority’s chagrin, to sway them but to no avail at the National Board.”

“Everyone knows my position was, do not support vaccine mandates, but I was completely outnumbered and ultimately must represent the board vote not my own,” she told her critics. “So you are misinformed about my not doing anything.”

Dunbar, who accused SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland of manipulating the National Board over the mandates, told Drescher that “You keep saying majority regarding the mandates. It’s disingenuous at best and diabolical at its worst.”

And referring to Drescher’s Cancer Schmancer charitable efforts, Dunbar wrote of the vaccinations that “The fact you push this cancer thing and yet still defend this now known cancer inducing, immunity destroying, negative efficacy creating, non-effective, unsafe injection – but don’t even acknowledge it’s being linked to TURBO CANCERS is beyond the pale.”

Antico, who ran unsuccessfully for president of the guild in 2017 and who was one of the moving forces behind a recently settled lawsuit against the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan for changes to eligibility that allegedly discriminated against older members, also questioned Drescher’s commitment to the rights of the unvaccinated.

“Why didn’t you call emergency meetings when public policy changed and the CDC said there was no difference in protocols between people who did and did not participate in the experimental drug trial as a condition of employment?” he said in an email to her. “Why didn’t you call an emergency meeting when medical and religious exemptions were not being honored which is a direct violation of the Return to Work Agreement?

Drescher, who is running for reelection with the support of both of the guild’s major factions – Unite for Strength and MembershipFirst – also took issue with her critics’ claim that she told Good Morning America that she is running uncontested.

“The statement I made in an interview on GMA I said I was uncontested by the two major parties,” she wrote in the email chain. “And in a press release I went farther to specifically say the two major parties in LA. I never gave any other interviews. Not sure when you will realize the press has an insatiable appetite for content and they publish things that are unsubstantiated. I can give you many examples of this but you will have to take my word for it, I have NEVER said uncontested bc I know your group is putting people up to run. Also Maya either misspoke or also was misquoted as having said the negotiating committee took off the 4th of July weekend which is wholly untrue as well. Did she outright lie or did the press twist her words? So much for the legitimacy of click bait.”

Dunbar responded in an email to Drescher. “I love how you can deny your own words on VIDEO, and then claim I’M LYING while providing ZERO evidence. Where did I say the Negotiating Committee wasn’t working over July 4th and to what press? If there’s some write up somewhere I’d love to read it. You have to do better. Just like with Covid you listen to people who are so misinformed and just run with it without even checking anything yourself, and this is why at your big age, you’re forever putting your foot in your mouth.”

Drescher, who has gone back and forth with her critics via email recently, has clearly had it with their sniping. “I gave you the opportunity to speak to me with respect and share with me your ask without pejorative editorializing,” she told them, “but that has fallen on deaf ears so you have lost the privilege to speak directly to me at all.” Instead, she noted that her executive assistant will relay their messages to her “without the abusive, character assignations that has become this thread’s acceptable mode of communication.”

“I will not be abused, called names, accused of greed, ego etc.,” she wrote before signing off the email chain “President Drescher.”

Drescher did not return a call for comment.

Dunbar told Deadline: “Factions have no place in a labor union. They’re elitist and exclusive, while rank and file members have no position within those ranks. Which is exactly why it’s so easy to dismiss a truly Independent candidate such as myself, like we saw with the GMA interview. Currently, it costs thousands to run a National Presidential campaign that reaches our 160,000+ membership, essentially making it impossible for everyday members to effectively campaign, which means keeping the very people that are affected the most by this guild’s decisions and contracts, completely removed from the decision-making process. This is just one of the many reasons I’m running. We need to restore the power of this labor union, back into the hands of the labor, the workers, artists, from the everyday background performer to mega-star, when we join this guild, every member should be proud to know where their hard earned money is going and that their union is always working for not against them, regardless of status or income. Once a member, we should all be afforded the same opportunities.”

With respect to the Covid mandates, she said: “The sad thing is, it didn’t even require a strike. What it did require was loyalty to the membership over producers. Protecting all members and ensuring that as we navigated this unprecedented last three years, we did so with dignity, honor, justice, and equality. Instead our leadership aided and abetted our employers to break state and federal laws regarding the interactive and accommodation process agreed to in the right to work agreement, and that our national executive director very clearly outlined to the membership during the rollout of the RTWA and Covid protocols. Nothing was done to mitigate the blanket discrimination suffered by the religious, medically vulnerable and disabled for 2.5 years. There are still productions with mandates. So, it’s hard for me to believe the strike comments.”

Dunbar said she’s running for president because “When my beloved 30-year acting veteran husband, Rockmond Dunbar, was discriminated against by the Employee Relations department of his employer, we immediately contacted SAG-AFTRA. For the first time in our combined 45+ years of membership, we needed our union and what we got in return was gaslit, disregarded, disrespected and dismissed. Like all members, we have paid thousands of dollars into this guild, believing that we’re investing in not only our careers and futures, but into a labor union that honors and protects all its members. Instead, over the last 3 years, though my husband’s situation is unique, I’ve learned our experience in this time of need, is not rare, it’s an unacceptable norm every day, in some form or another for our rank and file members.

“Our members are neglected, disheartened and have been pushed to the brink mentally, emotionally, physically, and for many of us, spiritually. We’re forced to watch our artistic dreams turn into nightmares and instead of being able to pick up the phone or walk into the SAG-AFTRA office and get the help we’re all paying to receive when we need it, we’re treated as second class citizens by the very labor union and leadership designated to protect and serve us.

“The whole point of a labor union is to ensure that all workers are treated equally all the time. Not just the ones you agree with, and like, or the people who think like you politically during a pandemic. This isn’t a high school drama club. We are a 160,000 strong, diverse and unique membership of individuals struggling to make a living that deserve equal working rights, free of personal opinions or political bias. Never was it, nor will it be ok that our leadership enthusiastically handed over our members rights, in any capacity to our employers under the guise of ‘producers privilege,’ as they so proudly touted. As president, I will never put our employers above workers’ rights. Pandemic or not. Vaccine or not. Republican or democrat. It doesn’t matter. I will never let what’s happening to my family, happen to another member. And that’s what they can count on from me. How I fight for my husband is how I’ll go to battle for them to ensure that what’s right and just, is upheld through good times and bad. And that our members know that when they carry that SAG-AFTRA card in their pocket, it’s worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Antico told Deadline: “President Drescher called an emergency meeting to renegotiate Duncan Crabtree-Ireland’s contract for four more years. The meeting was called under false pretenses as there was no emergency insofar as Duncan’s contract expired in 18 months, yet Fran refused to call an emergency meeting when the CDC’s public policy changed when evidence was verified stating the experimental vaccines were never tested for transmissibility and did not prevent infection rendering Zone A protocols useless and based upon false information. Her inaction kept thousands of SAG-AFTRA members who refused to participate in the experimental drug trial gainful employment without scientific basis.”

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