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Ken Howard Seeking To Remain SAG-AFTRA President (EXCLUSIVE)

Ballots going out on July 16

SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard will seek a two-year term as president of the year-old performers union, which will hold its first election in July and August.

“It seems like the best thing to finish the work during this transition period,” he told Variety. “I’ve been very pleased with how the  merger has gone so far.”

Howard and Roberta Reardon have been co-presidents of SAG-AFTRA since March, 2012, when members approved the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Howard said that Reardon will not be seeking the presidency. The deadline for filing nominating petitions is Friday.

Howard was the final SAG president while Reardon was the final AFTRA president. Both campaigned avidly for the merger and stressed pragmatism, asserting that the combination of the unions would give the new entity more bargaining strength and represent a first step toward merging the SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans.

Howard said the union will need to begin its “wages and working conditions” process soon to formulate proposals for its master contract covering feature films and primetime TV, which expires on June 30, 2014. Dates for those negotiations have not been set.

Howard was first elected as SAG’s 25th president in 2009, a few weeks after winning a supporting actor Emmy for “Grey Gardens.” He has continued to work, appearing as Atty. General Harlan F. Stone in “J. Edgar,” a recurring role on “30 Rock” and opposite Robert Downey Jr. in the upcoming legal drama “The Judge.”

SAG-AFTRA members ratified a three-year commercials contract last month with 96% support among the 13% of the members who voted. It was the first major successor agreement to go into effect under the merger and covers about  $1 billion in annual earnings.

The SAG-AFTRA national board is currently at 110 members as a result of combining the SAG and AFTRA boards as part of the merger agreement. The elections are the first step toward a “permanent governance structure” with 70 board seats allotted for the 25 locals with Los Angeles having 28 seats and New York with 16. A total of 10 national officers will also serve on the SAG-AFTRA national board bringing its total size to 80.

Ballots for the national, Los Angeles and New York elections will go out July 16 with an Aug. 15 deadline for receipt of ballots. Those contests will determine the president, secretary-treasurer and most board members; an exec VP and seven other VPs will be elected at the first SAG-AFTRA convention in late September.

SAG elections were often volatile affairs but the 2011 contest was a mild one as the self-styled progressives in the Membership First faction did not enter a slate after being defeated convincingly by the self-described moderate faction — which avidly pursued merger — in the previous two years.  Howard was re-elected in 2011 when he defeated a trio of relative unknowns with 75% of the 23,459 votes cast with with just over 23% of members voting.

Currently, there are less than 10 Membership First members on the national board, most notably Frances Fisher, Elliott Gould, Ed Harris, Anne-Marie Johnson and Martin Sheen.

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