August 8, 2013
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Roberta Reardon Urges SAG-AFTRA to Organize MoreRoberta Reardon

“Organizing is job one,” says SAG-AFTRA co-president Roberta Reardon. “The growth of nonunion work in New York is shocking, especially in commercials.” 

She’s now running against incumbent Mike Hodge for the presidency of the new union’s New York local. It’s the first election since the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists merged with the Screen Actors Guild in March 2012—a move that Reardon, then AFTRA’s president, strongly advocated.

Organizing actors has always been difficult, she says, because there’s no “shop.” “We’re freelance workers,” says Reardon “Very few of us have a steady job.” But without the union, “we’d be lowballing each other forever,” and it would be much more difficult for actors to collect money for recorded use of their work.

Now, she says, the union has to maintain its members’ livelihoods in the face of corporate consolidation and the explosion of new technology and new platforms that has undermined artists’ incomes in other creative fields. Many members, says Co- President Reardon, get more than half their income from residuals, and performances up on the Internet bring in much less money than a network-TV rerun would.

The union has had some success in these new areas, she says. In July, SAG-AFTRA won a contract from Oregon audiobook producer BeeAudio to pay narrators $150 to $240 for every hour in the final recording. The deal came eight months after the union told members not to work at BeeAudio, because it was paying less than half the standard rate. With more than 25 audiobook producers organized in the last five years, union narrators’ total income has increased almost tenfold.

The merger, Reardon says, will give the union more organizing depth and more leverage in negotiating with global entertainment conglomerates like ABC/Disney, whose reach extends from actors to newscasters to session musicians. It will also help actors who often worked under both unions’ contracts but didn’t make enough in each one to qualify for either’s pension plan. Reardon says it’s important for the New York local, whose more than 25,000 members make it SAG-AFTRA’s second-largest after Los Angeles, to have a strong presence in the national union. It’s also important, she adds, for it to represent the actors who work in less glamorous areas like commercials and voice-overs.

President Roberta Reardon is stressing her experience negotiating contracts, such as the one the union got for actors on commercials in May. They won a 6 percent raise over the next three years, and will also get paid more for Spanish-language commercials and ads moved over to the Internet and “new media.”

Roberta Reardon has been president of AFTRA from 2007 to 2012 and became co-president when the union merged with SAG.  She was a strong advocate for the merger. Throughout her career she has focused on securing good union jobs for members with the strongest rates and conditions possible. Reardon’s slate is stressing the importance of organizing non-union work. Her impressive leadership and negotiating skills has resulted in outstanding contracts for members.

Neal Tepel, LaborPress Publisher




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