AFTRA topper to see merger through

Roberta Reardon to run for third term

With the urge to merge heating up among Hollywood’s actors unions, the elected leaders of SAG and AFTRA have committed to staying the course.

“Because of where we are in the process of creating a new union, I feel an increased responsibility to see this through to its conclusion,” Roberta Reardon, prexy of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, told Variety in confirming that she’ll seek re-election to a third two-year term at next month’s national convention.

Screen Actors Guild president Ken Howard announced two weeks ago that he was running for a second term. 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.

She declined to speculate as to how soon after that a merger vote would take place, though it’s probable the voting would be completed by this time next year. “The ratification process is going to be part of what’s presented to the boards, so we have to have a firm agreement in place before I can comment about it,” she said.

Reardon attended 20 of the 21 “listening tour” meetings that took place earlier this year, journeying to Atlanta, Chicago, L.A., New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., among other cities. She remains relentlessly upbeat about the process, aimed at addressing member issues such as the difficulties in qualifying for two health plans. “I’ve spent a lot of time visiting the locals,” she said. “You can’t expect the members to be involved if you’re not involved.”

The unions held their first official meeting last weekend to start hammering out a merger proposal and set a second meet for late August in N.Y. They still haven’t sorted out such thorny issues as the name of the combined union, dues structure and governance — all of which could provide ammunition for opponents of the merger. Over 60% of those voting in both unions must approve for the merger to go through.Reardon’s been elected twice by acclamation at the 2007 and 2009 AFTRA conventions as no other candidate emerged. AFTRA’s convention is set for July 21-23 in Seattle.

The New York-based thesp began her career performing in daytime dramas and has since appeared in hundreds of commercials, as well as doing TV voiceover work, radio commercials, industrial films and narration. The national board voted earlier this year to give Reardon a $42,000 stipend for the year to promote the combo with SAG — the first time AFTRA’s taken such a step — as a result of the “extraordinary demands” placed on Reardon.

She said the stipend issue hasn’t come up often in discussions. When it has, members have been strongly supportive, she asserted.

“I’ve been able to do a little bit of work but I’m not able to do as much as I might because of the travel,” she added.

In addition to the usual benefits touted by merger supporters such as greater bargaining power and more efficient operations, Reardon believes that the combo of SAG and AFTRA is a crucial move amid two notable developments — the expansion of show business via digital platforms and the “ferocious” anti-union movement is states such as Wisconsin.

“It’s really rough right now because private sector unions have lost so much strength,” she said. “It’s important that working Americans have a voice in their workplace.”

Additionally, Reardon is faced with participating in the AFTRA negotiations on two of its biggest contracts — sound recordings, probably due to start in August; and the network code contract, which will likely begin in October. And she’s particularly pleased that the union’s started negotiations this week for the first contract for dancers in music videos in an outgrowth of the previous round of sound recordings bargaining.

But Reardon admits that merger will take up most of her time over the next year. Merger attempts in 1999 and 2003 were voted down by SAG members amid concerns about SAG losing its identity as an actors union and difficulties in merging the two org’s health and pension funds.

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