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AFTRA is On the March:
Report from National President Roberta Reardon
To the AFTRA 70th Anniversary National Convention
Friday, July 20, 2007

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AFTRA National President
Roberta Reardon


We have some excellent news coming out of AFTRA this year. Our organizing is paying off for our members. Dues income is up as well as new joins. So not only are we gaining new members but they are working more! This is a direct result of our organizing activities. Good on us! Organizing MUST be Job One for us. In our industry maintaining the status quo essentially means we are falling behind. In all areas of AFTRA’s jurisdiction there is continual growth. We must strive to grow in all areas as well. Providing access to union jobs is the core function of AFTRA.

Some of our successes: "Oprah and Friends" on satellite radio—a historic first for this new media platform. We congratulate the Chicago Local for this great news.

This will be the first of many in that area. In Sound Recordings our new Independent Producer contract and the new Tour contract are both available. Both contracts are a direct response to changes in the recording industry. In basic cable we continue to set the pace for organizing. AFTRA has more union density in basic cable than any other entertainment union, above or below the line. We established a foothold early and continue to strive to bring more cable shows under contract. From Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia to Rescue Me to Suite Life of Zack and Cody—AFTRA is there, offering union terms and conditions and most important offering opportunity for work here in the United States, not in Vancouver or Toronto.

Our organizing efforts have continued to pay off in broadcast TV as well. AFTRA covered shows make up almost 80% of all of the day parts that are unionized on the 4 major networks. On top of that are syndicated shows and local programming which are almost all AFTRA as well. From the morning news shows through the afternoon dramas to the evening news and primetime dramas, reality and game shows to the late night comedians, AFTRA is there. 6 of the 10 top-rated shows recently were AFTRA shows. From Good Morning America to Regis and Kelly to Judge Judy and Ellen, Days of Our Lives and Guiding Light to the CBS Evening News, American Idol, Deal or No Deal, ‘Til Death and on to Leno, Letterman and later, AFTRA contracts are bringing full Net Code and Exhibit A terms and conditions to our members. And most important—it is union work with high standards produced HERE in the US.

We are making inroads on new media as well. The new Electronic Media contracts are beginning to be applied for internet shows like The Onion, produced in New York, and Hampton High, produced in LA. And in Interactive Games six of the top 10 games last year were produced under the AFTRA Interactive Games contract.

AFTRA is on the march, organizing work with solid union standards and provisions, ensuring work opportunity for all our members.

While it MAY be always sunny in Philadelphia, it is not always sunny for AFTRA. Like every union today we face serious challenges. The power of our employers has increased as they consolidate and converge. The government continues to create roadblocks for workers rights. It is a never ending battle. Vigilance is the watchword if we are to stay ahead of the game.

The Sound Recordings talks have stalled. This has been extremely difficult bargaining. The music industry has gone through 7 years of change as the Digital Revolution swept through. It is an industry struggling to deal with the new paradigms created by digital downloads and file sharing. We only have to look here to see what can happen as technology remakes an industry. It is a sobering picture we need to pay attention to as we prepare for the same revolution in TV and cable. The issue of digital downloads of television and how it will be compensated sits squarely in the middle of our bargaining plate as we prepare for the Net Code and the Primetime/Theatrical talks next year.

In broadcast we face the explosion of satellite radio as well as internet radio. The Oprah contracts are wonderful, but we need to organize this part of the industry at scale. Some of our decisions must wait for the ruling on whether XM and Sirius can merge. The merging and mingling of broadcast, cable and internet news presents another serious challenge for the union. The upcoming Network News negotiations will no doubt have a struggle with this.

Another struggle that has developed recently is our relationship with our sister union Screen Actors Guild .We have been engaged in talks with our bargaining partner at their invitation. Since January we have had a series of conversations, highly confidential, regarding our participation in Phase One joint bargaining and issues of jurisdiction. While the substance of those talks remains confidential, I can report to you that the leadership of AFTRA has reaffirmed our commitment to the 50-50 joint negotiations dictated by our long-standing Phase One agreement with SAG. We await a reply from the leadership of the Guild as to their position on Phase One. It is imperative that we begin the process for the Primetime/Theatrical talks before the end of the year. The negotiating clock is ticking for both AFTRA and the Screen Actors Guild. Research, information-gathering and the wages and working conditions committee process must start soon. These contracts will be negotiated. The question is whether we do it together in a full Phase One process or separately.

As we have said repeatedly the last few years, digital changes everything.

That is why I think it is so ideal that this, our 61st Convention, is held here in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our independence. Philadelphia was the center of the American Revolution. And this year, Philadelphia is the host city for what I think of as the AFTRA Revolution.

These are revolutionary times we live in. The Digital Age is upon us. We no longer have to predict what changes we will see. They are everywhere. The cell phone that I carry has as much memory as my first desktop computer. Telephone and cable companies compete to provide the high speed ‘pipes’ into your home for telephone internet and television service. Apple TV is a small, relatively inexpensive box that wirelessly conducts the information on your computer to your television screen. This means that you now can download a movie onto your computer to watch on your flat screen home entertainment center. Or maybe just enjoy catching up with You Tube in the comfort of your living room. Many video stores only stock DVDs and the explosion of video-on-demand has meant a decrease in box office attendance at many movie theaters around the country. Tower Records has closed its terrestrial stores as music goes to downloads, and Apple’s iTunes Store is the third largest seller of music behind Wal-Mart and Target. Our newscasters now not only report the news, they sometimes carry a digital camera to shoot it and edit it as well. Posting on their blog is an important part of the job. The need for content on all of the new media—cell phones, i-pods, v-pods, internet, and satellite—is constant and insistent. For AFTRA members it is great opportunity but it comes with equally great challenges.

One of the challenges is managing this sea-change in our industry. Because, while this is the dawning of the Digital Age, old analog media is still robust and will remain so for the foreseeable future. So the challenge for us as performers and broadcasters is how to straddle this Divide. It is like two shoes in two canoes. How do we maintain our balance in these two different streams and continue to move forward without upsetting one of the canoes? 

 The stream of analog media is well-known. It is more constant, less given to innovation. Slower, more manageable, we have navigated these waters for years now. While we must remain watchful and maintain our contract standards, old media comes at a pace that is both familiar and easier to negotiate.

New media is an entirely different story. There is a lot of turbulence and churning, rapids suddenly need to be navigated and shallows skirted. There is no map of this territory. Although some of the players are familiar, many are new to us or are acting in new capacities. There is a constant need for research as the industry morphs in front of us. Experimentation is everywhere. We struggle to define contract terms that are appropriate for our work as the workplace AND the work itself seems to change daily. The real struggle for us is how do we keep our balance astride these two streams, doing justice to both without injury to either? Simply dragging analog terms into the digital world is shortsighted at best. Rates and working conditions perfected for hour dramatic series make no sense applied to 15 minute internet comedies. Editing provisions for 30 second TV commercials become obsolete when advertisers contemplate targeted marketing where the spots are digitally tailored to meet the criteria of a zip code or your own set-top cable box. Our recording artists are struggling with royalty payment concepts in a world where few hard copies or even a complete album is sold.

These are revolutionary times for AFTRA as well. Adjusting to these new currents requires new alignments. Saturday morning a special session of the Convention will be convened to consider a resolution unanimously recommended by the Strategy Cabinet and overwhelming approved by the National Board. This is a proposal that the union severs its affiliation with the 4 As—the Association of Actors and Artistes of America—and directly affiliate with the AFL-CIO. It is a bold move, but a move that reflects the needs of this new age. Our affiliation with the 4As has been long and honorable. We hold our sister unions within the 4As in high esteem and we anticipate continuing our close partnership with them. But as we look at the 21st century media industry we see that significant parts of our membership are not fully served by this indirect affiliation with the AFL. The 4As is focused primarily on actors and originated around live performance. Broadcasters and most of our sound recordings artists have never truly benefited from the alliance. Direct affiliation is a move that honors AFTRA’s diverse jurisdictions. With our own seat at the table of Labor AFTRA can begin to explore the many opportunities for strategic alliances with other media unions. The IATSE, the IBEW, CWA (NABET and The Newspaper Guild) and the AFM, as well as SAG and Actors Equity of course, are unions where we have overlap of employers and interests. Sitting at the same table with them and exploring ways to cooperate and build strategic partnerships makes great sense. We ARE the merged media union and we must act on that. The Digital Revolution requires new allies and new strategies and those are best forged with our own seat at the AFL-CIO.

There is a revolution within AFTRA as well. We have been on the path of this revolution for some time now. Since the Klein Report of the early ‘90s and all through the Strategic Planning process, we have worked to make AFTRA a national union in practice as well as in name. We have combined the Local treasuries into a national treasury and created a unified dues structure. We now have a national staff structure as well. The Strategy Cabinet has labored over the last several years to analyze our industry and identify goals that we need to pursue in order to ensure that AFTRA is a vital and growing union. We have established a common vision of what AFTRA must do.

The central part of this vision is organizing. That is the fulcrum upon which our union balances. While we have always looked to organize new work, the Digital Revolution makes that a critical component of our success. One important step was taken last year when we hired Phil Denniston as our new Director of Organizing. But Phil and the staff cannot and will not do this work alone.

Organizing starts with the members. It starts with all of you at this Convention. You have already demonstrated your interest in your union by running for a seat as a Delegate. YOU will be a critical component of our organizing efforts. As we identify targets and begin to develop strategies we will need you to be involved in the process. We will need member leaders for organizing committees. We will need more shop stewards. We need dedicated leaders in each and every Local, ready to reach out to our members and to the non-union workforce as we move a national organizing and strategic bargaining agenda.

YOU are the union. The contracts reflect the will of the membership. Our strategies are defined by the needs of the membership coupled with an understanding of the industry and our power and leverage in each contract area.

The strength of the democracy that is AFTRA is that by following our principles we develop strategies, contracts and governance that reflect the will of the membership and offer the highest possible standards through access to union contracts and benefits.

These next few years will be years of struggle. Defining ourselves in the new Digital Age will require fierce determination. Our employers have already shown how difficult the digital transition will be. But I am confident that the brothers and sisters of this union are up to the task. After all, AFTRA was born in a technology revolution 70 years ago. And the T was added to AFRA when television became the Next Big Thing. Moving forward together is the AFTRA way. TOGETHER I know we will straddle this Divide and continue to create solid union jobs for our members.

That is why I say WE are AFTRA--and WE are organizing!

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