SEATTLE, WASH. (July 24, 2011) — Member Delegates to the 63rd National Convention of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO – a national union of more than 70,000 recording artists, broadcasters, actors, singers, dancers and other performers who work across the spectrum of media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings and digital media – concluded their business today having today re-elected New York actor Roberta Reardon as their National President of AFTRA.
More than 300 professional performers, broadcasters and sound recording artists – serving as Convention delegates elected by AFTRA members from 32 Locals and Chapters throughout the nation – assembled at the Westin Seattle on July 21 for their three-day 63rd National Convention, the highest governing body of AFTRA. Reardon was re-elected on Saturday evening, July 23, by unanimous acclamation.
“I am a proud member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. It is a tremendous privilege and an honor to represent AFTRA in the great halls of labor at the AFL-CIO, and to know that when I speak on behalf of AFTRA, I am representing this wonderful, complex and interwoven tapestry of members.” Reardon also serves as a National Vice President of the AFL-CIO.
National First Vice President Bob Edwards, satellite radio host from Washington, D.C., was re-elected to his post. Los Angeles actor Gabrielle Carteris was newly elected as National Second Vice President.
National Vice Presidents re-elected to office were San Francisco actor Denny Delk, New York actor Holter Graham, San Francisco broadcaster Bob Butler, Philadelphia television news producer Catherine Brown and Nashville recording artist Jim Ferguson. Denis Berkfeldt, an actor from Denver, was elected as a new Vice President of the Union.
Los Angeles actor Matt Kimbrough was re-elected National Treasurer, and New York actor Lainie Cooke was re-elected National Recording Secretary. All officers serve two-year terms.
Earlier in the day, during her President’s Report to the Delegates, Reardon articulated her hope for a single new union through the combined memberships of AFTRA and Screen Actors Guild: “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, and that we face corporations who have learned that diversification is the key to their success. We know that union members need more power to deal with these international giants, more power as we face the digital era that is fast upon us and more power as we struggle with increasing demands of a work world that has become more unorganized as it grows.
“AFTRA members believe,” she continued, “that one of the best ways to grow that power is to do what we have always done in the face of adversity: lock arms and stand together.”
In her report to Convention Delegates, AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth – a 30-year veteran of AFTRA and the entertainment and media labor movement – shared union density research prepared by Mary Kay Henry for the Albert Shanker Institute and statistics available on Unionstats.com. She reported that union density in the private and public work sectors in America has plummeted from 29.3% in 1964 to just 12.6% in 2004. If current trends continue, union density nationwide is projected to drop to 8.5% in 2014.
Responding to this challenge, Hedgpeth outlined the Union’s organizing vision for the future: “We must learn to speak the language that appeals to a younger generation to erase their antipathy to unions and educate them why being union matters. We have no choice but to mobilize the relevant talent pool, whether they be our own members or non-union workers, lest we give employers an escape valve by which to erode the standards our members have fought for in their collective bargaining agreements.
“We must be prepared to mobilize our members in every other aspect of their union’s work to ensure that the respect, dignity and middle class living they were promised yesterday, is theirs today and tomorrow,” said Hedgpeth.
She also expressed her support for the union’s efforts to unite AFTRA and SAG into a single, powerful new union, 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. I hope that this time, the third time, will finally be the charm.”
She also reported on the Union’s success pursuing claims for AFTRA members since the 2009 Convention: “Based on reports from AFTRA Local and National contract departments for the fiscal years 2010 and 2011 combined, the monies that AFTRA recovered for its members, which they would not have otherwise received but for the fact that they have a union to fight for them, was just under $24 million dollars.” The monies collected were the result of claims grievances, arbitrations, legal proceedings or negotiated settlements.
AFTRA’s highest honor, the George Heller Memorial Gold Card, which is “bestowed on those who have made a significant contribution to AFTRA and its members,” was awarded to past AFTRA National President John Connolly and National Vice President Denny Delk. President Reardon made the presentations, and she, along with Kim Roberts Hedgpeth and former Chicago Local Executive Director Eileen Willenborg are past Gold Card recipients.
Convention Delegates passed a resolution affirming the 2011 Convention’s “commitment to the process of uniting AFTRA and SAG,” and endorsing the efforts of the AFTRA New Union Committee to develop a plan that would result in a “strong, unified successor union.” The resolution also dissolves all prior Convention resolutions regarding previous attempts, and further requires the National Board to keep the members informed of the progress of the discussions.
In other actions, delegates unanimously passed a resolution instructing the Union to develop and distribute educational materials on “right-to-work” legislation and the harmful impact on members and union organizing efforts.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth H. Shuler addressed the Delegates, congratulating AFTRA on its organizing efforts and encouraging them to continue on: “Everything we do should be focused on how we grow,” she said. “I, like many others in the labor movement, are watching AFTRA closely. What you’ve accomplished in that last two years since your last Convention is astonishing.”
United States Representative Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) spoke of his dedication to protecting the intellectual property rights of media professionals saying, “Every artist I know has made a living stitching together their livelihood, and I think any way we can make that living more reliable is better off for society and the artist,” McDermott said. “I’m passionate that creative people get paid for their work.”
Other guest speakers at the Convention’s last day were 33-year AFTRA member actor Jean Smart; Ferne Downey, National President of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists; Bryan Calhoun, Vice President of New Media and External Affairs at SoundExchange; Dennis Dreith, Independent Administrator, AFM & AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund. Screen Actors Guild National President Ken Howard presented a special video greeting to the Delegates.
The city of Baltimore will serve as host for the 64th National Convention in 2013, having been previously selected by Delegates to the 2009 Convention in Chicago.