AFTRA President Roberta Reardon Re-elected

She and most of the leadership are re-elected as the union prepares for upcoming negotiations of its daytime and sound recording contracts, and as the process of developing a merger plan continues.

AFTRA convention delegates meeting in Seattle reelected actor Roberta Reardon on Saturday night to a third two-year term as national president. The election was by unanimous acclamation. Most of the other national officers were also reelected by the over 300 convention delegates, who in turn had been elected by AFTRA members from the union’s 32 locals and chapters.

Another big topic, of course, was SAG-AFTRA merger. The two performers unions are busy hammering out a proposed plan for this.

Earlier in the day, during her report to the delegates, Reardon described the need for merger: “AFTRA members look at the landscape of our industries and we see the tides of change rolling in: we understand that companies have consolidated their power.” In response, she said, union members need “to do what we have always done in the face of adversity: lock arms and stand together.”

Other national officers elected were Los Angeles actor Matt Kimbrough (treasurer); New York actor Lainie Cooke (recording secretary); Bob Edwards, satellite radio host from Washington, D.C. (first vice president); Los Angeles actor (and LA Local president) Gabrielle Carteris (second vice president); and, as unnumbered vice presidents, San Francisco actor Denny Delk, New York actor Holter Graham, San Francisco broadcaster Bob Butler, Philadelphia television news producer Catherine Brown, Nashville recording artist Jim Ferguson, and Denver actor Denis Berkfeldt. All serve two-year terms, and all except Carteris and Berkfeldt were incumbents.

Convention delegates passed a resolution affirming commitment “to the process of uniting AFTRA and SAG.” The resolution also dissolves all prior Convention resolutions regarding previous merger attempts.

AFTRA national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth also addressed the issue, saying: “I’m the daughter of two performers, both of whom were members of multiple unions, so I’ve always recognized that it was smart to combine AFTRA and SAG – as a start.” 

That last bit is tantalizing. If SAG and AFTRA do merge, a logical next step would be to explore merger with Actors Equity, the union representing stage performers. SAG president Ken Howard has indicated as much.

But Hedgpeth might also have another next-stage partner on her mind: the American Federation of Musicians, with whom AFTRA shares jurisdiction over recorded music, such as on CDs, MP3s or audio streaming formats. The AFM covers the musicians, while AFTRA covers singers, under its Sound Recordings Code, the current version of which expires December 31. In addition, both SAG and AFTRA cover singers who appear on-screen in motion pictures (SAG-only) and television programs (SAG and AFTRA), and the AFM covers movie and TV scoring work by musicians.

Hedgpeth was unavailable for comment early Sunday morning.

In a sign of just how busy AFTRA has become, negotiations on the Sound Recordings Code are scheduled to commence on August 15, or about three weeks from now, in New York. Earlier this week, the AFTRA national board approved a package of proposals for those negotiations. The Code is the union’s second largest national contract, and covers recordings on all media and all music formats, as well as audiobooks, comedy albums and cast albums. Negotiations are conducted between AFTRA and the major record labels (Sony, BMG, EMI, Warner Music, and Universal Music Group) as well as the Disney family of record labels.

The board also approved a package of proposals for renegotiation of the AFTRA Network Television Code “Front of the Book.” That contract – the union’s largest – covers all types of television programming except local and national news broadcasts, network (and CW) primetime dramatic programs and basic cable dramatic programs. (Covered programs include soap operas, first-run syndication, and non-scripted shows.)

The front of the book agreement is scheduled to expire on November 15, but AFTRA’s negotiators will explore an adjustment to the negotiating schedule – which presumably would entail a contract extension – since the union will have its hands full with merger discussions and the Sound Recordings Code negotiations.

In a similar move, the board also approved a recommendation by staff to continue the AFTRA Television and Radio Commercials contracts for a period of one year, which would move the expiration dates of both contracts from March 31, 2012 to March 31, 2013. The same action was previously approved by the SAG national board for the guild’s Television Commercials contract.

Moving the commercials contract also may make it feasible to negotiate the front of book agreement in April and May, if the studios are only willing to grant a six-month extension. It seems more likely that the union will ask for nine months or a year though

Other convention business conducted in the last few days included: a report from Hedgpeth that AFTRA had recovered almost $24 million for members in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 combined, as a result of claims grievances, arbitrations, legal proceedings or negotiated settlements; the bestowal of the union’s highest honor, the George Heller Memorial Gold Card, to past AFTRA national president John Connolly and national vice president Denny Delk; and speeches by AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Elizabeth H. Shuler, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), 33-year AFTRA member actor Jean Smart; Ferne Downey, national president of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA); Bryan Calhoun, SoundExchange’s vice president of new media and external affairs; Dennis Dreith, Independent Administrator of the AFM & AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund; and, via videotape, SAG national president Ken Howard.

AFTRA’s business in Seattle is not quite done: the newly-constituted national board is meeting this morning (Sunday) even as other delegates are presumably sleeping late or jetting home.

The next AFTRA convention will be in Baltimore in 2013, but by then the gathering may be a SAG-AFTRA convention – if indeed the unions merge, and if they adopt a convention form of governance, which would be a change for SAG.

Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel

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