SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard on Barack Obama, AFI Opportunities

Ken Howard SAG Awards
Jim Smeal/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock

Ken Howard has headed SAG-AFTRA for the past four years while also remaining a working actor. He was recently seen as a mop executive in “Joy” and portrayed a jurist in 2014’s “The Judge” with Robert Duvall. But he admits the acting game is tough for all of the union’s 160,000 members.

“The primary concern of most of our members has and always will be getting enough work,” he says. “In a media landscape that has grown in unimaginable ways, there are more projects that have come along now than ever. While the number of projects has grown, many players are vying for that audience. Everyone on the creative side of this industry is adjusting to new realities of how the business works and what it takes to make a living at it. Getting paid enough to make a living and attaining health and pension credits are also key concerns for members.”

Howard created the President’s Task Force for Education, Outreach and Engagement a year ago to push for greater activism and organizing to persuade performers to join SAG-AFTRA rather than working non-union.

“We’ve achieved some real success and it’s going strong,” he says. “We are a union that is growing and gaining in strength. We are a union that knows that bringing up the next generation of performers is vital and with record new joins every month, I can’t say enough about the success of the President’s Task Force and thank them for their dedication and hard work with local leaders throughout the country.”

He’s also particularly proud of SAG-AFTRA participation in the White House’s Call to Arts, launched a year ago by President Obama with the goal of providing 1 million hours of mentorship by 2018.

“We are a union that is growing and gaining
in strength. We are a union that knows that bringing up the next generation of performers is vital.”
Ken Howard

“SAG-AFTRA’s collaboration with the American Film Institute to mentor aspiring storytellers and creative and performing artists has already racked in around a quarter of a million mentoring hours and we’re adding new partners almost every week like the Art of Elysium and James Franco’s Rabbit Bandini Productions,” he says.

Howard campaigned actively for the 2012 merger of SAG and AFTRA, which will soon launch contract negotiations with the advertising industry on a successor deal to its three-year contract — the first major deal negotiatied by SAG-AFTRA. He’s still pushing for a merger of the separate SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans.

“Executive director David White has been giving regular reports to the National Board as the trustees finalize this long and complicated process,” he says.

“We anticipate the plans having an announcement this spring and will be communicating with the membership as the plans finalize the details.”
Howard decided last spring to run for another two-year term as president and narrowly won over “Home Improvement” star Patricia Richardson following a spirited campaign. He says he has no second thoughts about serving in the post.

“I’m grateful for the members’ trust and I continue to feel honored to lead the fight to help members.”

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