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AFTRA, Hedgpeth Make History

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Kim Roberts Hedgpeth has become the first African American to be named the national executive director of a major American performers union.

The national board of directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) announced Hedgpeth's appointment last weekend. An attorney who first joined the union's staff in 1981, Hedgpeth is an AFTRA veteran with broad experience in the negotiation of contracts and the supervision of staff. She was named acting national executive director in March when Greg Hessinger, the union's staff chief, resigned to become national executive director and chief executive officer of the Screen Actors Guild. Hessinger officially began work at SAG on May 2. Hedgpeth has served as AFTRA's acting national executive director since April 21.

"As we expected, Kim Roberts Hedgpeth stepped into the challenging role of AFTRA national executive director without missing a beat, and with a gentle grace, quiet power, and keen intelligence that is the mark of a true leader," said AFTRA national president John P. Connolly in a press release announcing her appointment. He stressed that the union "treasures our culture of mutual respect, close collaboration, trust, and solidarity between elected leadership and staff in pursuit of our mission to defend and extend the rights of performers, broadcasters, and recording artists in today's globalized media industries.

"No one executive in the media unions has a bigger job than Kim Roberts Hedgpeth," Connolly added. "Our nearly 80,000 members could not be better served. That AFTRA turns to her is no surprise; that we are grateful she has accepted this challenge is a given. Our confidence in her could not be greater. It is she who confirms our confidence in ourselves, our vision, and our union."

Hedgpeth's appointment helps cement AFTRA's dedication to diversity. The union has worked with the television networks to increase the hiring of minorities and women. Also last week, the executive officers of the 13-million-member AFL-CIO (with which AFTRA is affiliated) recommended significant changes aimed at boosting growth in the labor federation. One of those recommendations was to increase training and leadership development to ensure diversity at all levels of the union movement.

AFTRA did not specify what Hedgpeth's salary as national executive director would be. According to the union's 2004 LM-2 report—its latest financial filing with the federal Department of Labor—Hessinger's gross salary was $253,269. Hedgpeth, who is listed in the report by her maiden name, Kim Roberts, had a salary of $210,615 in her post as associate national executive director.

Two Decades of Service

No stranger to executive positions at AFTRA, Hedgpeth worked with the union's New York local from 1981 to 1986, first as a contract administrator, then as assistant executive director/house counsel. In 1986, she became the local's co-executive director.

From 1987 to 1992, she served as executive director of the San Francisco local and of SAG's San Francisco operations, negotiating and administering two dozen collective bargaining agreements covering employees at Bay Area TV and radio stations, as well as contracts for the cable and home video markets. That experience began preparing Hedgpeth for her new post, where she will oversee negotiations on all AFTRA contracts.

She joined AFTRA's national staff as assistant national executive director for news/broadcast in 1992, taking responsibility for planning, coordinating, and directing the collective bargaining and labor relations activities in staff news and station negotiations. She also researched new developments and technologies in news broadcasting. AFTRA's national board appointed her to the post of associate national executive director in 1997.

Hedgpeth received her B.A. from Harvard University and her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center. She is a member of both the California and New York state bar associations. She has served as director of labor and employee relations at Harvard University and as vice president of human resources at Safe Horizon, a crime victims support and advocacy organization.

She currently serves as executive secretary of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America, the umbrella organization for the major performing-arts unions in the United States.

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