Money makes AFTRA move

Changes include reducing size of board, staff benefits

This article was updated at 9:58 p.m.

HOLLYWOOD — Citing financial pressures, AFTRA’s leaders have launched a cost-cutting reorganization that includes moving its national headquarters from New York to Los Angeles next year.

Move by AFTRA’s national board, meeting Saturday at the Sheraton New York, comes a year after AFTRA and SAG were unable to complete a merger designed cut costs by eliminating duplicative operations. AFTRA members endorsed the merger plan but it was narrowly defeated by SAG voters.

Last year’s pro-merger campaign touted financial benefits from merging along with increased bargaining clout; opponents countered that SAG would lose its uniqueness as an actors union and warned of problems from combining the two unions’ separate pension and health plans.

AFTRA’s new restructuring effort also includes cutting the size of the board from 113 to 75, reducing the number of board meetings, closing two of its 33 offices, reducing staff benefits and cutting expenses for convention delegates.

The moves — designed to save $4 million annually — came a year after AFTRA’s leaders instituted several measures designed to boost the annual revenues of $25 million, including assessing each member $50 per year for two years along with bumping up the base dues rate by 10% and the initiation fee by $100.

Relocation of the national headquarters — aimed at saving several million dollars annually — will have to be approved next year by the AFTRA convention since it will require amending the union’s constitution.

Natural resources

“The AFTRA national board has acted decisively and responsibly to make sure that AFTRA will have the resources necessary to properly serve its members and expand their employment opportunities,” said AFTRA national president John Connolly in a statement. “We no longer have the luxury of time to strengthen our union’s finances. The board has wisely and courageously recognized that there were no easy options and no quick fixes.”

In initiating the process of moving the union’s headquarters, AFTRA instructed national exec director Greg Hessinger and the finance committee to present a report covering the financial, strategic and organizational implications to the 2005 national board summer plenary and the 2005 convention.

The other moves approved Saturday:

n Adoption of a national staff structure, giving the national exec director full authority over national and local staff. AFTRA noted that previously, employees of major locals operated under separate staff structures accountable only to their local boards.

n Reduction of the national board from 113 to 75 members. The national exec director and a member committee were instructed to prepare a report containing formulae for achieving the smaller size while protecting geographical representation. That reduction will have to be approved by the 2005 convention.

n Modification of the number of regularly scheduled national board meetings to three per fiscal year instead of the present four.

n Closure, as of May 1, 2005, of the San Diego office and retention of one office in Texas rather than the present two.

n The finance committee was instructed to examine adding a cost-of-living increase to the existing dues structure. Such a hike would be subject to approval by the 2005 convention.

n Institution of reductions in both convention delegate expenses and staff benefits. The board said that if AFTRA’s financial condition improves, it will consider the feasibility of reinstating both after the restructuring transition period.

‘Difficult decisions’

“By making these difficult decisions, the national board has taken the necessary steps to ensure that AFTRA will have the resources and capacity to vigorously represent our members in a rapidly changing environment,” Hessinger said. “These initiatives will reduce expenditures, increase revenues and create an effective national structure that is both financially sound and able to anticipate and confront the challenges of the future.”

AFTRA announced the dues hike last year, asserting its dues were lower than those of virtually any comparable union and that on a cost-per-member basis, its operations were extremely efficient.

AFTRA, which has about 80,000 members in broadcasting, newscasting, acting and recorded music, also tried unsuccessfully in 1999 to merge with SAG. AFTRA members also endorsed that deal but SAG voters have spurned both combos.

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