SAF AFRA Ken Howard

On eve of SAG Awards, merger of two unions going strong

Though he’s an active actor, SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard has kept the drama to a minimum since 2012’s merger between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

“We’re probably less interesting from a news coverage standpoint, but more interesting to our members on every level,” Howard says.

Howard became the final president of SAG in 2009 and the first president of SAG-AFTRA last summer.

“I’m always surprised and impressed at the hard work and dedication of our elected leaders and staff, but not at what we have accomplished over the last year and a half as a merged union. We always knew that members would be better served by a single, combined union — and we’ve seen that in the successful negotiations and in other areas of our work.”

Howard — whose upcoming credits include playing a jurist in Robert Downey Jr.’s legal drama “The Judge” — will head the negotiating team for SAG-AFTRA this spring on its master contract. He points to the merger effort and subsequent efforts to organize public radio stations KPCC and KPBS and the Timberlake Tour.

“We’re also set to begin our Wages & Working Conditions process in January where we hear directly from the members about their needs,” he says. “We’re in a good position for bargaining.”

SAG-AFTRA will also be seeking out experts for talks, much as it did during the previous round of negotiations when James Cameron made a presentation about issues surrounding motion-capture — an area of work still not covered by the union. “We periodically invite industry experts to share information with our members throughout the process. I anticipate that we will continue to do that in the next few months.”

Howard’s also pleased with a recent move by the separate SAG and AFTRA health plans to allow for reciprocal earnings in calculating eligibility.

As for the SAG Awards, they’ll retain that name into 2016 since SAG-AFTRA signed a three-year extension last year with TBS and TNT. Howard says the SAG Awards could eventually become the SAG-AFTRA Awards. “The Screen Actors Guild Awards brand is strong and that’s a positive. We also have a number of partners in the awards show and those agreements are important as well. We may see an evolution over time.”

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