Ken Orsatti, who negotiated some 20 major labor contracts during his nearly two decades as national executive director of the Screen Actors Guild, died Tuesday of pulmonary disease in West Hills, Calif. He was 78.

During Orsatti’s tenure as exec director, from 1981 to 2000, he also served as the Guild’s chief negotiator at a time when the union’s contracts expanded substantially.

Orsatti successfully led a campaign to organize the advertising industry in the Guild’s Branches and helped negotiate numerous local and regional contracts. He helped found the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and continuted to serve on its board after his retirement.

The exec started at SAG in 1961, beginning as a theatrical business rep in Hollywood. In 1966, he was named SAG’s Southwest regional director, moving up to Hollywood exec director and assistant national exec director before being named national executive director in 1981.

He also served as a trustee of the SAG-Producers Pension & Health Plans for more than 35 years, and was a VP of the International Federation of Actors.

“Ken served this union with loyalty and devotion for nearly 40 years and touched many people in the entertainment industry labor scene,” said SAG president Ken Howard. “He will long be remembered for wholeheartedly working to protect the rights of our members.”

“He was cherished by many on both sides of the bargaining table,” said SAG senior advisor John McGuire. “Staff members across the country were especially fond of him but so were many union leaders, especially in his home state of California.”

Orsatti, a native of Santa Monica, received a graduate degree from USC in 1959.

In 2001, he was honored with SAG’s Ralph Morgan Award and the same year, the SAG Foundation established the Ken Orsatti Scholarship for Guild employees.

Orsatti is survived by his wife Patricia, three sons and six grandchildren.