SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher stood her ground during a contentious national board meeting on Saturday which saw a heated, two-hour debate over Covid-19 vaccination mandates. She took heat mostly, but not exclusively, from members of the Unite for Strength faction that supported her election last year.
“The board blew up at her for two hours. She took a lot of unfair, disrespectful attacks for speaking her truth,” said a person who attended the virtual meeting.
Those who disagreed with her position – including members of the dissident MembershipFirst faction – reportedly felt that she was “misinformed” about some aspects of the science behind vaccinations and their proven reduction in the transmissibility of the virus. As the CDC notes, “a growing body of evidence suggests that Covid-19 vaccines also reduce asymptomatic infection and transmission.”
At the end of the meeting, Drescher reportedly told the board that she felt a bit “shell shocked” by the reaction she got but noted that “This is a democracy” and that it is her duty to represent the interests of all members.
“No one was disrespectful to Fran,” insisted another source. “They were emotionally charged, but she made remarks that were unfortunately misinformed about the science of the efficacy of vaccines, and about the FDA’s approval and how the vaccines work. Most of the passion was about ensuring that the board was accurately informed about the science. It’s also about protecting members, and how these protocols allowed members to return to work safely, and how important that is. Many members noted that the vaccines have allowed them to stay employed in a line of work where people can’t be masked or socially distanced.”
“The tone of the room,” that source said, “was overwhelmingly pro-vaccine, pro-protecting our members, and pro-return-to-work protocols. People noted that we’ve continued to have conversations with top epidemiologists and that we are continuing to follow the science and will continue to do so as we move forward. But at the end of the day, we have to put our members’ safety first. As the science evolves, if qualified scientists recommend changes to our approach, we will certainly follow their advice, as we have for the last two years.
“I appreciated that the national board remained kind and clear to those members whose beliefs were not grounded in science,” said a board member. “That said, vaccines save lives and we lived through enough misinformation.”
In April, 86.44% of the national board voted to support the return-to-work protocols. The union’s executive committee and its safety committee are also overwhelmingly in favor of the protocols.
When she was running for president a year ago, Drescher went on record in support of the protocols, which include a narrowly-defined provision that allows employers to mandate vaccinations as a condition of employment as long as they have procedures in place “to engage in an interactive process with those requesting Americans with Disability Act or religious accommodations.”
“While vaccinations are a crucial component towards scaling back the Covid-19 virus,” she said during last year’s campaign, “they are not 100% effective in preventing us from catching Covid or spreading it. This is why hospital protocols continue to require masks, and for all patients to be tested for Covid, regardless of whether the patient was vaccinated prior to admittance.”
Last April, nearly 100 of the union’s members rallied outside SAG-AFTRA’s headquarters in Los Angeles to protest the mandate, maintaining that they face discrimination if they refuse to be vaccinated on religious or medical grounds.
At Saturday’s board meeting, Drescher proposed a special board meeting to review the most current scientific information about Covid, vaccines, boosters and all the variants of the virus, with an eye on possibly adjusting the protocols to allow more of the union’s members to work, and to prevent discrimination against those who refuse to be vaccinated on religious or medical grounds.
Some members of the ruling Unite for Strength, USAN and Union Strong factions that supported her presidential campaign reportedly yelled at her during the meeting, and one person made, and then withdrew, a motion to prevent her from holding such a meeting.
“She was speaking her truth and trying to protect members as she sees it,” said another source who attended the meeting.
SAG-AFTRA declined to comment on confidential board matters. Deadline reached out to Drescher and will include her comments if she chooses to comment.