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Citing the need to stablize AFTRA’s finances, leaders of the performers’ union have assessed each member $50 per year for the next two years along with bumping up the base dues rate by 10% and the initiation fee by $100.

The moves, made over the weekend at AFTRA’s national convention in Nashville, are not a surprise given AFTRA’s announcement earlier this year that it was running at a $2 million deficit on revenues of $25 million. If all 80,000 AFTRA members pay the $50 assessment during the next two years, that would raise $8 million in revenues.

AFTRA national exec director Greg Hessinger told delegates that the union needs additional funds to eliminate the current deficit and invest in organizing programs to ensure long-term growth.

“By any objective measure, AFTRA’s dues are lower than virtually any comparable union,” he said. “And our research shows that, on a cost-per-member basis, our operations are extremely efficient. Given these realities, the AFTRA Convention concluded that a significant increase in AFTRA’s revenue base is the only viable solution to enable the union to achieve long-term growth, density and power in all of the industries within AFTRA’s broad jurisdiction.¨

The moves also come six weeks after AFTRA’s second attempt in four years to merge with SAG was spurned by SAG voters. The pro-merger campaign had touted financial benefits of merging duplicative operations as a key reason for merging; yearly dues would have increased from $116 to $125 and the earnings cap on dues would have been lifted to $500,000 from the current $250,000.

Details of the revisions:

  • Each year’s assessment will be effective Nov. 1 and members may pay in a lump sum or in two $25 installments.

  • Base dues will increase by 5% each year from the current $116, effective Nov. 1.

  • The initiation fee will rise to $1,300 from $1,200 on Nov. 1.

  • The convention also voted that the national board should study increasing the current dues structure, under which members pay less than 2% of earnings up to $250,000, and conduct a referendum to approve such an increase.

New term for Connolly

As expected, the convention also tapped Los Angeles-based actor John P. Connolly to a second two-year term as national prexy. Connolly was elected without opposition on Saturday. Connolly, an energetic public speaker, has been particularly active in pushing for the merger, seeking further alliances with other showbiz unions and battling the FCC’s easing of media consolidation rules. He has also continued to work as an actor and regularly guest stars on “NYPD Blue,” “The West Wing,” “Without a Trace,” “General Hospital” and “The Young and the Restless.”

“The opportunity to lead this great union over the last two years has been a wonderful gift of friendship, solidarity and passion,” he said after the election. “I thank you for allowing me the privilege of continuing for another two years.”

The convention also tapped Bob Edwards (Washington/Baltimore), host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” who was re-elected as first VP. It named New York local prexy Roberta Reardon as second VP.

It also named seven national VPs — L.A. actor Ron Morgan; former New York local president Anne Gartlan; broadcaster Shelby Scott (Boston), former national president; San Francisco broadcaster Belva Davis (KRON, KQED); Miami actor Dave Corey; Dick Kay, broadcaster from Chicago (WMAQ); and Denver voice-over artist David Hartley-Margolin.

Treasurer Mitch McGuire of New York was re-elected as was Secretary Bernie Alan of Los Angeles. AFL-CIO prexy John Sweeney, who campaigned actively for the merger, appeared at the convention and noted that the majority votes in AFTRA and SAG were in favor of the proposal. (The SAG vote fell 2% short of the requirement.)

Sweened called the campaign “another great example of the growing solidarity in the labor movement (and) clear indication that the prospects for building power and leverage for professional performers are better than ever.¨

The Convention also heard from ACTRA President Thor Bishopric from Canada; Tom Lee, president, American Federation Of Musicians; SAG National President Melissa Gilbert (via videotape); Writers Guild West Executive Director John McLean and Patrick Quinn, president of Actors Equity Assn.

Actors Equity was mentioned repeatedly as a potential merger partner during the SAG-AFTRA merger campaign. Quinn reiterated his union’s support for combining AFTRA with SAG, a move that both boards have endorsed since the election.

Actors Equity recently agreed to explore merger over the next two and half years with the American Guild of Musical Artists (Daily Variety, July 1) and said he hopes for similar discussions to take place with the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Connolly and Quinn also announced that AFTRA’s Strategic Alliances Committee would begin meeting with a group of Equity members to discuss ways in which the unions can work more closely together nationwide.