UPDATE: What AFTRA Isn’t Doing For Members…

CHICAGO (August 9, 2009) — The American Federation of Television and
Radio Artists concluded its biennial National Convention Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago last night with a wide range of actions including the re-election of Roberta Reardon as National President and approval of an increase in the initiation fee to join AFTRA.

More than 240 professional performers, broadcasters, and sound recording artists — serving as Convention delegates elected by AFTRA members from 32 Locals and Chapters throughout the country — assembled on August 6 for the three-day 62nd National Convention, the highest governing body of AFTRA.

New York actor Roberta Reardon — who was elected to her first term as National President by Convention delegates in 2007—was re-elected by unanimous acclamation to a second two-year term as National President.

“I am extremely honored to serve once again as your National President,” Reardon told the delegates. “Together, we’re going to forge a great 21st century digital union. This past week, we planned the future, not just for the people in this room but for the AFTRA members around the country, and I am so proud.”

National First Vice President Bob Edwards, satellite radio host from Washington, D.C., was re-elected to his post. Also re-elected was Second National Vice President Los Angeles actor Ron Morgan.

National Vice Presidents re-elected to office were San Francisco actor Denny Delk, New York actor Holter Graham, San Francisco broadcaster Bob Butler, Philadelphia TV news producer Catherine Brown, Nashville recording artist Jim Ferguson and former Boston TV journalist Shelby Scott.

Chicago news broadcaster Craig Dellimore was newly elected as a National Vice President.

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.

Convention delegates approved a resolution to increase by $300 the initiation fee that applicants to membership in AFTRA pay upon joining. The resolution requires that all revenues raised as a result of the fee increase will be exclusively designated for organizing efforts to increase employment opportunities for union performers and broadcasters so they can benefit from the improved wages and working conditions of AFTRA contracts. The increase will raise the standard initiation fee to $1,600 from $1,300, and will go into effect on November 1, 2009. The last time AFTRA increased its initiation fee was in 2003. Annual dues remain unchanged.

In other actions, delegates:

* Unanimously passed a resolution urging the government to strengthen protections against intellectual property theft on the Internet;

* Overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, with gender identity protections included, and that all AFTRA Locals protect the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from discrimination by supporting legislation that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. AFTRA is one of the first labor unions to support this legislation;

* Overwhelmingly voted to appoint a committee of members and staff to explore with Actors’ Equity Association closer cooperation between the two unions;

* Unanimously voted to require that for every resolution passed at an AFTRA National Convention, or by a Local, the following notice will be included: “AFTRA is a union that includes among its membership journalists at networks and local stations nationwide. This resolution should not necessarily be interpreted to represent the personal opinion of any individual member.”

* Bestowed an honorary AFTRA membership to President Barack Obama.

Convention delegates also expressed deep concern over the closure of the Motion Picture Television Fund’s long-term care and ICU facilities in Woodland Hills, Calif., and referred a resolution stating that concern to the AFTRA HRIC committee to investigate the circumstances of the closure.

Both Reardon and AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth brought delegates to their feet with reports on the state of AFTRA, its activities since the 2007 Convention and the union’s renewed commitment to organizing.

“We must organize across the country, in large Locals and smaller Locals, and across a wide range of budget levels,” said Reardon. “We understand it is a critical focus to organize not just at the high end, but also in areas where budgets are tighter: we have an obligation not only to bring that work under an AFTRA contract, but to dedicate ourselves to educating and organizing, member-by-member and Local-by-Local. In AFTRA, we know that members need to organize new work for new members. We are
investing in our future.”

Addressing the subject of merger, Reardon said, “Merger can only be pursued from a position of strength and power. We will continue to forge ahead with plans for our future, knowing that if and when the merger question comes to us again, we will be strengthened from within and ready to serve our members and prepare them for whatever the future brings. But understand, should that knock come on the door, from whatever source, our response must be simple and strong and clear: all of us or none of us.”

Reporting on the union’s success in pursuing claims for AFTRA members since the 2007 Convention, Hedgpeth said, “For the benefit of anyone who is still under the misimpression that unions don’t make a difference, we are able to report to you today that for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2008, AFTRA returned to members over $17.3 million in claims and AFTRA Health & Retirement contributions, and for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2009, the union recovered almost $17.1 million—putting back into the pockets of AFTRA members and their benefit plans during this hectic two year period over $34.4 million dollars.”

Bestowed on “those who have made a significant contribution to AFTRA and its members,” AFTRA’s highest honor—the George Heller Memorial Gold Card—was awarded to Reardon, Hedgpeth and Chicago Local Executive Eileen Willenborg, retiring this year after more than 14 years of service to members. AFTRA Los Angeles Local member Susan Boyd Joyce and New York Local member Janette Gautier, both of whom are past Gold Card recipients, made the presentations.

Richard L. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, addressed Convention delegates as a special guest speaker on Saturday, August 8, and formally presented AFTRA with its AFL-CIO charter, granted to the union in February 2008. Trumka told delegates: “The commitment that your union has made to organizing is vitally important. I know the idea of organizing during a recession seems counter-intuitive. Quite frankly nothing could be further from the truth. This is exactly the time to organize.” On Wednesday, August 5, the AFTRA National Board unanimously endorsed Trumka for President of the AFL-CIO.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis J. Gannon, and United States Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) also addressed delegates during the Convention.

Delegates selected Seattle as the host city for the 63rd National Convention in 2011, and Washington, D.C., for 64th National Convention in 2013.