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Howard talks up AFTRA merger

Screen Actors Guild Awards 2012

With Hollywood actors facing an increasingly murky future, Screen Actors Guild president Ken Howard wants to clarify that situation as much as possible by spending his time working toward a merger with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

Asked what are the major concerns these days from members, Howard responds unequivocally.

“In a word: strength,” he says. “Members are anxious for the merger to happen because they know we are stronger together. Our industry is undergoing serious changes and it’s critical that we have a unified strategy, and a united front, to make sure performers keep their fair share.”

He believes strongly that members of SAG and AFTRA, who are likely to see ballots for a merger referendum in March or April, want to combine unions to then resolve the dilemma of seeing pension and health contributions go into separate SAG and AFTRA plans.

Howard was handily re-elected to a second two-year term in September and has made merger the key element of both elections, so he hasn’t really been able to see much of distinction between the first and second term.

“What remains the same is that I’m staying focused on serving the needs of SAG members by working with my leadership team and our partners at AFTRA to create a single union,” he says. “I believe the biggest difference in my second term is that we’re actually going to make it happen. The members are counting on us to get this done and I’m not going to disappoint them.”

Howard was first elected in 2009, a few weeks after winning a supporting actor Emmy for “Grey Gardens.” He continues to work, appearing as Atty. General Harlan F. Stone in “J. Edgar” and in a recurring role on “30 Rock.”

“I’ve had to decline a few things because of the demands of being SAG president, but my union service has also given me some terrific insights and a new way of looking at the work I’ve been able to accept,” he says. “In addition to ‘J. Edgar,’ I’ve done a TV movie (‘The Council of Dads’), ‘The Closer’ and ‘Fairly Legal,’ and I’ve had a wonderful time playing the role of Hank Hooper on ’30 Rock.’ It’s kept me very busy, but it’s also helped me to stay current and connected to our members.”

Last year also saw Howard and AFTRA president Roberta Reardon complete a nationwide “listening tour” to seek out member opinions.

“I am continually impressed by the dedication of those serving the union … both members and staff,” he adds. “I’m not just talking about the people I work with in the national leadership, but people all across the country. One of the great benefits of the listening tour Roberta and I conducted last year is that I got to visit with lots of members and branch staff on their home turf. The level of commitment they bring to the union cause — even in places where the challenges are tougher, like right-to-work states — is inspiring.”

The merger has been voted down twice by SAG (1999 and 2003) with opponents asserting that the combo would strip SAG of its unique character, and warning that the SAG health and pension plans may suffer. Those are still potentially combative issues but Howard believes members would favor a merger so they’re no longer faced with a scenario of contributing to two separate health plans and not qualifying for either.

“Members are sick and tired of seeing their earnings divided into two plans, which can make it dramatically harder to qualify,” he adds. “There’s just no doubt that a single union with increased leverage will help us address these and all other concerns.”

Howard’s set to give on-air speech at Sunday’s SAG Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, following two days of meetings of the SAG national board to approve the merger proposal.

“I try to balance my commitments, but sometimes it’s hard to pull off,” he says. “In addition to my work as SAG president, including my service on the AFL-CIO executive council, I stay very active with some charitable causes that are important to me. And, of course, I’m always looking forward to my next role as an actor.”

But over the past couple of years, the focus on bringing SAG and AFTRA together has taken the lion’s share of Howard’s time.

“This is a crucial and historic opportunity to protect the future for our members,” he adds. “Even though it’s taken a lot of time, I’m extremely grateful to have been part of it.”



“The Artist”
“The Descendants”
“The Help”
“Midnight in Paris”

Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”

Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, “My Week With Marilyn”
Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Stunt Ensemble
“The Adjustment Bureau”
“Cowboys & Aliens”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
“X-Men: First Class”


Drama Cast
“Boardwalk Empire”
“Breaking Bad”
“Game of Thrones”
“The Good Wife”

Comedy Cast
“30 Rock”
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Modern Family”
“The Office”

Drama Actor
Patrick J. Adams, “Suits”
Steve Buscemi, “Boardwalk Empire”
Kyle Chandler, “Friday Night Lights”
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”

Drama Actress
Kathy Bates, “Harry’s Law”
Glenn Close, “Damages”
Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story”
Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife”
Kyra Sedgwick, “The Closer”

Comedy Actor
Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Steve Carell, “The Office”
Jon Cryer, “Two and a Half Men”
Eric Stonestreet, “Modern Family”

Comedy Actress
Julie Bowen, “Modern Family”
Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”
Tina Fey, “30 Rock”
Sofia Vergara, “Modern Family”
Betty White, “Hot in Cleveland”

Actor in a TV Movie/Miniseries
Laurence Fishburne, “Thurgood”
Paul Giamatti, “Too Big to Fail”
Greg Kinnear, “The Kennedys”
Guy Pearce, “Mildred Pierce”
James Woods, “Too Big to Fail”

Actress in a TV Movie/Miniseries
Diane Lane, “Cinema Verite”
Maggie Smith, “Downton Abbey”
Emily Watson, “Appropriate Adult”
Betty White, “The Lost Valentine”
Kate Winslet, “Mildred Pierce”

Stunt Ensemble
“Game of Thrones”
“Spartacus: Gods of the Arena”
“True Blood”

Idol of capri to acting icon | Howard talks up AFTRA merger | Acad, SAG share same voter pool | Partygoers relax, revel after the show | Stunts given due | Brisk pace gives winners last word |

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