Thesp pledges to move toward merger with SAG

Roberta Reardon has been unanimously elected to a third two-year term as president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — and has reiterated her pledge to press forward on merger with the Screen Actors Guild.

AFTRA made the announcement early Sunday at the conclusion of the performers union’s convention in Seattle. Reardon’s been elected by acclamation for all three of her terms.

“AFTRA members look at the landscape of our industries and we see the tides of change rolling in: We understand that companies have consolidated their power, and that we face corporations who have learned that diversification is the key to their success,” she said. “We know that union members need more power to deal with these international giants, more power as we face the digital era that is fast upon us and more power as we struggle with increasing demands of a work world that has become more unorganized as it grows. AFTRA members believe that one of the best ways to grow that power is to do what we have always done in the face of adversity: lock arms and stand together.”

The New York-based thesp began her career performing in daytime dramas and has since appeared in hundreds of commercials. She’s also done TV voiceover work, radio commercials, industrial films and narration.

SAG president Ken Howard is running for a second two-year term and facing opposition only from darkhorse candidate David Hillberg. Reardon and Howard have made merger the signature issue of their tenures — and are now heading the official push to craft a proposal for submission to the national boards by the end of January.

Reardon and Howard headed a series of more than 20 “listening tour” meetings to meet with members earlier this year, journeying to Atlanta, Chicago, L.A., New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., among other cities. The unions held their first official meeting last month to start hammering out a merger proposal and set a second meet for late August in New York — though they still haven’t sorted out such thorny issues as the name of the combined union, dues structure and governance.

Over 60% of those voting in both unions must approve for the merger to go through. Merger attempts in 1999 and 2003 were voted down by SAG members amid concerns that SAG would lose its identity as an actors union and worries about difficulties in merging the two orgs’ health and pension funds.

Convention delegates passed a resolution affirming “commitment to the process of uniting AFTRA and SAG.”

Merger proponents have contended SAG and AFTRA need to merge for a variety of reasons: improving bargaining power, resolving jurisdictional overlaps and operating more efficiently. Opponents such as former SAG president Alan Rosenberg contend the current merger push is aimed at making SAG less likely to threaten a work stoppage (Daily Variety, July 16).

AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Elizabeth H. Shuler addressed the convention to congratulate AFTRA on organizing efforts. AFL-CIO execs attended last month’s merger meeting and have long asserted that unions need to combine forces via merger.

AFTRA national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth indicated that should the SAG-AFTRA combo go through, it would set the stage for more mergers with other showbiz unions.

“I’m the daughter of two performers, both of whom were members of multiple unions, so I’ve always recognized that it was smart to combine AFTRA and SAG — as a start,” Hedgpeth said. “I hope that this time, the third time, will finally be the charm.”

She also cited research for the Albert Shanker Institute showing union density in the private and public work sectors in America has declined from 29.3% in 1964 to 12.6% in 2004 — with a projection, if current trends continue, to drop to 8.5% in 2014.

“We must learn to speak the language that appeals to a younger generation to erase their antipathy to unions and educate them why being union matters,” Hedgpeth said. “We have no choice but to mobilize the relevant talent pool, whether they be our own members or non-union workers, lest we give employers an escape valve by which to erode the standards our members have fought for in their collective bargaining agreements.”

She also reported AFTRA’s recovered nearly $24 million for members in the past two years as the result of claims grievances, arbitrations, legal proceedings or negotiated settlements.

Delegates also re-elected national first VP Bob Edwards and tapped Gabrielle Carteris as national second VP. National vice presidents re-elected were Denny Delk, Holter Graham, Bob Butler, Catherine Brown and Jim Ferguson while Denis Berkfeldt was elected as a new VP. Matt Kimbrough was re-elected treasurer and Lainie Cooke was re-elected recording secretary.

AFTRA also presented the George Heller Memorial Gold Card to Delk and Reardon’s predecessor John Connolly.

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