Three decades after serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ed Asner is seeking a SAG-AFTRA national board seat as part of the Membership First slate, Variety has learned exclusively.“I still have hopes of making the union more viable,” Asner told Variety. “I don’t think we present a strong enough image.”Asner said he became involved as a candidate for several reasons: the slow pace of residual payments; the lack of member engagement in seeking contract improvements; and the failure to merge the separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans — a key reason given to members in the successful campaign for the 2012 merger of SAG and AFTRA.“We are too willing to let transgressions slide by,” Asner said.
SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White disclosed last month that progress has been made in merging the plans, but gave no timetable for the implementation.
Asner will be part of the slate for the self-styled progressives of Membership First, headed by “Home Improvement” star Patricia Richardson, who is challenging incumbent Ken Howard for the presidency. SAG-AFTRA has not yet disclosed the list of eligible candidates for the upcoming contest.
Election ballots will be mailed to members who are paid up on dues on July 21 and tabulated on Aug. 20. Turnout in the 2013 election — the first for the merged SAG-AFTRA — was about 20.5%, with ballots mailed to 139,967 eligible voters.
Howard, 71, has headed SAG-AFTRA since it was created three years ago and easily defeated Esai Morales — who headed the Membership First slate — and two other challengers in 2013. Howard was first elected as 25th and final SAG president, positioning himself as a moderate and pragmatist, in 2009 and re-elected in 2011 on a platform advocating the merger of SAG and AFTRA, which was overwhelmingly approved by members despite active opposition from Membership First.
Asner served as the 18th SAG president for two terms from 1981 to 1985, joining a list of notables that included Eddie Cantor, James Cagney, Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston.
During his time in office, he was criticized for making political statements about U.S. involvement in El Salvador, which may have led to CBS cancelling the series “Lou Grant.” Asner received SAG’s Life Achievement Award in 2002, two years after winning the guild’s Ralph Morgan Award for service to the guild.
In 2013, Asner served as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against SAG-AFTRA alleging extensive mishandling of $130 million in unpaid residuals and foreign royalties. The suit was dismissed in early 2014 but the federal judge in the case indicated that the plaintiffs could file again.
Asner has won seven Emmy Awards for performing — more than any other male actor. He received five of the awards for the role of Lou Grant.
Asner, 85, has continued performing. He will appear Saturday at the Malibu Playhouse in a one-man show “A Man and His Prostrate,” written and directed by Ed Weinberger.