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SAG-AFTRA Future Coming Into Focus At Convention

Garcetti set to appear at opening reception

A year and a half after its creation, SAG-AFTRA is showcasing high-profile support at its first-ever convention at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

The five-day event, which launches with a welcome reception for more than 350 delegates Wednesday night with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (pictured above) attending, may also provide clues as to how the union deals with key issues such as its own finances and upcoming negotiations.

The union’s elected leaders have shown little deviation so far from the moderate, non-confrontational course espoused by SAG and AFTRA in recent years.

Convention highlights include AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s keynote speech on Thursday; presentation of a “groundbreaking” study on sexual orientation and gender identity diversity on Friday; and Saturday’s keynote speech by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

The convention will also see the final component of the union’s new governance structure with delegates to create the 80-member national board, including an exec VP contest between Gabrielle Carteris of Los Angeles and Mike Hodge of New York. Seven other VPs will also be elected.

Most of the board was elected last month, including president Ken Howard, who fended off a challenge from Esai Morales.

The convention concludes Sunday and the new national board, representing 165,000 members, meets Monday for the first time.

The first SAG-AFTRA board, created following the March, 2012, has not yet achieved one of its key goals — uniting the separate SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans. That goal was a major driver behind the merger, with supporters asserting that the merger would pave the way for combining the plans — thus lessening the probability of performers seeing employer contributions going into both plans and not meeting qualification levels for either.

The merger agreement specified that no layoffs would occur immediately but in September, 2012, SAG-AFTRA launched a voluntary buyout that cut 80 positions. The national board made two major moves in April when it approved the closure of 10 regional offices and about 60 layoffs in response to a $6 million revenue shortfall, leaving staffing at about 500.

In July, the board received a financial report on its fiscal year ended April 30, which included approximately $98 million in expenses, revenue of approximately $88 million and a deficit of approximately $10 million for fiscal year 2013. The operating deficit, which leaders have said was not unexpected, was funded out of reserves and the board approved a balanced budget for fiscal 2014.

SAG-AFTRA’s finances have come under scrutiny since May’s filing of a federal suit by former president Ed Asner and 15 others, alleging extensive misconduct in how the union has handled $130 million collected from foreign royalties and residuals. The union has repeatedly brushed off the suit, denying wrongdoing and asserting it was “very proud” of its unclaimed residuals and foreign royalties program and asserting that actors would not have received funds without the union’s efforts

An Oct. 7 hearing has been set to hear SAG-AFTRA’s motion for dismissal.

The next key negotiations for SAG-AFTRA will be on a successor deal to its feature-primetime contract, which expires June 30. Howard gave an explicit indication the talks will take place next year in an endorsement letter for Hodge in June.

No date has been set for the start of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for the successor pact.  The union also has not yet set its “wages and working conditions” meetings, which are required in order to formulate its proposals for the negotiations.

The current master contract for the Directors Guild of America also expires June 30 and the Writers Guild of America deal runs out on May 1. No negotiations have been set for either of those contracts either.

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