I’m sad to say that the Los Angeles SAG-AFTRA “membership meeting” on Saturday was nothing more than a Membership First campaign event.

Membership First is the union faction that rabidly opposed the merger of SAG and AFTRA — and still opposes it. Unite For Strength, USAN, and other affiliated factions around the country supported the merger. Currently, MF controls the Los Angeles local board, the union’s single largest, while UFS controls the national board and the national leadership.

At the event, MF board members gave partisan speeches from the dais in response to questions, while UFS LA board members weren’t allowed to speak or answer questions.

Some Membership First supporters are now spreading the lie that President Gabrielle Carteris and Secretary-Treasurer Camryn Manheim “didn’t want to stay” at the LA membership meeting. The truth is that they weren’t invited to speak until two days before and had previously scheduled meetings to attend. Was this done on purpose so that members might fall for the notion that national leadership “doesn’t care about them”?

I have never heard Carteris be less than respectful toward or personally disparage her political opponents. On the other hand, they disparage her, attack her, lie about her, blame her, and accuse her.

The hate is palpable and personal, and it led to Carteris receiving death threats in the last union election. How bad will it get in this year’s election, I wonder?

And I want Membership First leaders to explain why they have such hatred for the AFTRA side – they literally minimize us and blame us for things that are their fault. When referring to the union, some of their officers often drop AFTRA and refer to it as SAG. They preach that Hollywood actors should control the union, even though it’s also made up of singers, dancers, stunt performers, broadcasters, background actors, news anchors, reporters, voiceover artists, and more. They say the union has “gone downhill” since “they let the riff-raff (AFTRA) in.” Matthew Modine, their candidate for national president in the last election, promoted the idea that the union drop the AFTRA name altogether and go back to the actor logo.

Some of MF’s elected leaders pull a Republican Party trick: They capitalize SAG but put AFTRA in lower-case letters, in the same way that GOP politicians refer to the Democratic Party as the “Democrat Party.” It’s a way of minimizing the members who came into the union through the merger with AFTRA. They treat us with disdain. One of MF’s top leaders has even said that the only thing wrong with SAG is “sick AFTRA.”

“Sick AFTRA.” Like we’re some diseased group that’s invaded their exclusive neighborhood. If you think that kind of rhetoric sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

MF leaders often blame AFTRA for the union Health Fund’s problems, which an independent board of trustees runs separately. They claim that AFTRA members were “forced onto” the plan when the health plans merged — as if we were freeloaders who didn’t pay our way. But that also is a lie. We paid premiums and paid for our coverage when the plans merged.

The leaders of Membership First want members to believe that Carteris and national leaders are responsible for the Health Fund having to change coverage and increase premiums in response to the pandemic — but they don’t tell you that many of the people they blame also lost their coverage. Some of the plan’s trustees lost their coverage as a result of decisions they made. MF is counting on members to be as susceptible to misinformation as those who believe President Biden “banned” Dr. Seuss.

But, ultimately, this all goes back to the merger in 2012.

Membership First’s mismanagement of SAG is why that union had to merge with AFTRA. The merger saved it. (It also saved AFTRA from its problems, but that’s another story.) MF had run SAG into the ground, leaving members unprotected because they couldn’t negotiate contracts while AFTRA could. MF was vehemently opposed to the merger then and seems to want “revenge” for it now. What form will that revenge take? If they gain control of the national leadership, will they push for actors to “secede” from the “riff-raff” and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves? Can those of us who aren’t Hollywood actors be confident that they’ll look after our best interests, too, or will they push a “civil war” that pits actors against the rest of us?

These are questions we’ll have to ask when this year’s election rolls around.