AFTRA Board and Convention Meet This Week

The gatherings come on the heels of the union’s ratification of a new video game contract.

It’ll be a busy week for AFTRA, as both the organization’s national board and then its convention will be meeting.

First comes a face-to-face plenary session of the national board on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 19 and 20. It will be the last meeting for some of the current members, as the recently elected new Board members will be formally seated following the convention on Sunday morning, July 24.

The convention itself takes place Thursday through Saturday, July 21-23, in Seattle. The last outing was two years ago, in Chicago. Capping the convention, elections will be held on Saturday evening for national officers, including president, first and second vice president, treasurer, recording secretary and seven unnumbered vice presidents.

The union’s national president, Roberta Reardon, who has served since 2007, will seek a third term. No other candidates have emerged, but could do so at the convention. The confab will be attended by 300 delegates representing the union’s 32 locals and chapters.

In a statement that could equally well be read as an endorsement for the ongoing SAG-AFTRA merger process, Reardon said, “Our Convention is a wonderful example of how a multi-jurisdictional media and entertainment union knits our complex interests into a unified organizing strategy for the entire Union.”

She added, “We all work for the same handful of employers. The more complex and integrated our relationships with those employers, the more leverage the Union has as a whole.” National executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth echoed this assertion, saying “AFTRA members are uniquely poised to wield incredible power as they work across the spectrum of . . . entertainment and media.”

The board meeting and convention come on the heels of AFTRA membership’s ratification, announced Friday, of a new 3½-year interactive media agreement covering voice work for video games, effective July 1 and running through December 31, 2014. The agreement includes an immediate 1% increase in minimum fees and another 2 percent increase on May 1, 2013, as well as a 0.5% increase in employer contributions to the union's health and retirement fund.

Notably, the agreement includes a new “cloud gaming fee” – a one-time payment of 15% of the session fee paid to every principal performer in a game once it is made available both on a streaming service and via sell-through (e.g., on CD/DVD or via download). It’s not clear that any such streaming services exist today, but Scott J. Witlin of Barnes & Thornburg LLP, chief negotiator for the videogame companies, told THR that by replacing a disputed provision in the previous agreement, the new cloud gaming fee may clear the way for development of new platforms.

AFTRA members approved the new agreement by a vote of 85% in favor, with a total of 1,993 affected members voting. Both sides expressed satisfaction, with AFTRA Los Angeles local president and negotiating committee co-chair Gabrielle Carteris remarking “I am so pleased and proud that AFTRA members have ratified this new agreement” and Witlin saying, "We are pleased that we once again were able to work out an agreement with AFTRA.” AFTRA assistant national executive director Mathis L. Dunn, Jr. served as chief negotiator for the union.

Most video game work is non-union, but of the unionized work, AFTRA has covered the bulk since 2009, when SAG members declined to ratify a contract jointly negotiated with AFTRA. Witlin told THR that the companies have had a “last, best and final” offer on the table since 2010, but that the guild has been making counteroffers since that time.

Returning to the subject of the AFTRA convention: In addition to elections, delegates will take action on a number of resolutions and will receive “state of the Union” reports from Reardon, national treasurer Matthew Kimbrough and national executive director Hedgpeth, as well as various committee reports.

Although the union statement made no mention of it, the merger process will no doubt be a subject of discussion and reports.

Also on the agenda are a host of guest speakers:

Elizabeth H. Shuler, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer – keynote speaker

• SAG president Ken Howard

• Actor Jean Smart (Hawaii Five-O, Designing Women)

Ferne Downey, president, Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA)

Dennis Dreith, Independent Administrator, AFM & AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund

Bryan Calhoun, Vice President, New Media and External Affairs at SoundExchange

Jeff Johnson, president, Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Willis Edwards, vice president, NAACP, Beverly Hills/Hollywood Chapter

• Seattle Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith

Tom Chamberlain, President, Oregon State Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Erik Van Rossum, Secretary-Treasurer, UNITE HERE Local 8, AFL-CIO

Leslie Tolf, President, Union Privilege, AFL-CIO

• U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott (D - WA)


Twitter: @jhandel