SAG-AFTRA is shifting focus to its upcoming contract negotiations and late September convention following the completion of its first national elections.
Contract talks for its film, TV, cable, and New Media agreements will take place next year with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, although a schedule for the talks has yet to be finalized. Union leaders believe they’ll enter these negotiations with a stronger hand, as it will be the first time AMPTP meets the post-merger organization at the bargaining table.
Earlier this year SAG-AFTRA negotiated $238 million in wage increases and other improved compensation into the 2013 television and radio commercials contracts. The 2012 merger helped strengthen SAG-AFTRA’s bargaining position during those talks, according to Ken Howard, the union’s president.
“Joint bargaining—it sounds good until, you know, there’s real pressure,” Howard told Backstage in a recent interview. “You do want to be in complete control of the workforce, and that was really not the case [before the merger].”
Now, the union is not only in control of the labor force but also moving forward, following its first national election Aug. 15, with its long-standing leadership intact. Howard was re-elected to his third term as president, albeit his first as the head of the merged union. Amy Aquino became SAG-AFTRA’s first elected secretary-treasurer, although she held that position for two terms during her time with the pre-merger Screen Actors Guild. A notable departure from the top executive ranks was former co-president Roberta Reardon, who narrowly lost her bid for the New York Local presidency to incumbent Mike Hodge, but she told Backstage before the vote that she plans to run for executive vice president at the first SAG-AFTRA national convention next month.
Moreover, the leadership of MembershipFirst indicated there’s no bad blood in the wake of the vote.
“We made them pick up their game and got more folks interested in the basic and ongoing debate of our union’s most pressing issues,” MembershipFirst’s Esai Morales, who was Howard’s main challenger for the presidency, wrote on his Facebook page Aug. 16. “Let’s keep our eyes on the prize of a ‘more perfect union’ and hold our leaders truly accountable to those who pay for their privilege to lead.”
Morales’ statement went on to say that his group will continue to act as a kind of parliamentary opposition party. “They know we and more importantly YOU know more than ever what the stakes are. Ultimately it’s about keeping true to the members’ best interests and we can never lose sight of that. Here’s to keeping ’em honest and transparent.”
Morales’ comments, along with the return of several openly rebellious members to the national board, may indicate that the elections haven’t settled all scores. For instance, Mary McDonald-Lewis, who organized protests against Portland Local’s office closure, was re-elected to the national board along with Nashville Local’s Cece DuBois, who called the restructuring that resulted in the closure of 10 of the union’s 25 offices “completely wrong-headed.”
McDonald-Lewis told Backstage she planned to continue pushing the national board to reverse its restructuring. “It’s my singular mission to fight for the closed locals and for all small locals in every aspect of this union’s governance,” she said.