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August Flash! AFTRA National Treasurer Matt Kimbrough Discusses the One New Union Process

Dear AFTRA Member,

I wear a lot of hats in service to our wonderful union: I am the National Treasurer and Chair of the National Finance Committee and Western Chair of the National Legislative and Public Affairs Committee. I have Co-Chaired or served as Chair for the past three Exhibit A (Primetime) Television Negotiating Committees and I will be Co-Chair once again this fall. I am the newest member of the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds’ Union Trustees, who oversee your AFTRA H&R member benefits. I also serve on the AFTRA National Strategy Cabinet, which meets regularly to discuss and chart our union’s strategic plans for the future. Last month, AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon asked me to help her lead the Presidents' Forum for a New Union and I am honored to help. I do all of this, as all AFTRA elected leaders do, as a volunteer, using the rest of my time to book the work I need to make a living. Let me update all of you on what wearing each of these hats tells me about where AFTRA is today, and how exciting and challenging the work before us will be.

Summer is usually a quiet time for folks, but this summer has been one of the most active and serious times for AFTRA members. It’s been so busy here that it feels like Labor Day, the traditional end of summer, came the day after Memorial Day.

As you know, AFTRA’s 2009 Convention approved a $300 increase in our initiation fee, with all of that new money designated for organizing. This additional income is the fuel that will bring to fruition our commitment to transform AFTRA from a servicing union into an organizing union. It has enabled us to create a full-time National Organizing Department. Our first task is internal: we are committed to reaching out and speaking to as many working members as possible to let them know the faces of the members who serve them and the issues our union is working on. Our union’s strength depends on the commitment of members to act on their own behalf and only our collective ORGANIZED voice will force employers to substantially improve our wages and working conditions. Only when members ask other members to step up and represent our cause will our collective will be an undeniable force for leveraging our power.

Last month, we extended the AFTRA Network Television Code (“Front of the Book”) so that we could jointly return to the bargaining table with our brothers and sisters at Screen Actors Guild to focus on renegotiating our AFTRA Exhibit A (primetime TV) and SAG TV/Theatrical contracts. The AFTRA Exhibit A and CW Supplement agreements cover scripted dramatic primetime programming on the major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW) and pay TV (HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc). AFTRA Locals and SAG Branches have just completed six weeks of intense individual Wages and Working Conditions (W&W) meetings where we received input from every constituency and working group about their needs. As a National Co-Chair and Chair for the AFTRA Los Angeles portion of these meetings, I want to thank the hundreds of members who took time out from their busy lives to talk with us and generate proposals. The most heartening aspect of this process for me was to meet the many members who came in the door — often with issues, but who later told me that by participating, they had been bitten by the “union bug” — and were now moved to participate and speak up in any way they could. The next step is to collect all the proposals, collate them and create a package for review by the AFTRA/SAG Joint National W&W Plenary on August 21 and 22. The Joint Plenary’s work will then be presented to the Joint National Boards of both unions for approval in September, after which our proposal package will be presented to management in late September to start the bargaining process.

Another key part of ensuring our collective future was articulating a vision that your national leaders (including myself) put forward in the Spring 2010 issue of AFTRA Magazine on the concept of building a New Union. In it, we proposed that the time has come to abandon previous notions of why we should consider bringing two institutions together into some form of “merger,” but rather contemplate what future leverage and power can be generated on behalf of all performers by the creation of a new union representing every member in our two unions. A single health and retirement plan and economies of scale are, of course, important, but in all honesty, working for these things is a given: we all agree those should happen. But in this renewed effort, let us look beyond the “givens” and focus on how a new union would make our workplaces and livelihoods better by being more powerful, more organized and less possible for employers to ignore.

As a first step in the process, President Reardon recently announced the creation of the Presidents’ Forum for a New Union that will join with a similar entity created by the leadership of Screen Actors Guild. The Forum will conduct informal discussions on the vision of what such a new union might accomplish, and I am honored that President Reardon has asked me to join her in leading this Forum. Over the next year, we will diligently make sure that the diverse voices of AFTRA – performers, recording artists and broadcast employees in large and small Locals alike – will have the opportunity to discuss with us, in depth, their needs and perspectives on their vision for the future. We hope to talk with each other face-to-face in a candid atmosphere to educate ourselves about our differences and, I hope, our surprising likenesses. This is not a formal committee process, rather a non-bureaucratic Forum to give us an opportunity to hear from all perspectives. The goal is that, once completed, we will be able to draw an effective road map to inform a more formalized process that will guide us to the end we all desire: the creation of the most unified, powerful, and yes, ORGANIZED union our industry has ever known.

Finally, let us all remember that the one day in the calendar devoted to unionism, Labor Day, is very near. I invite each and every AFTRA member to participate this year in a local celebration in your community. Join with other unions and take a day to actually “talk shop” about work and workers. You can help us build greater and wider solidarity with all American workers — you might be surprised by our common bonds. You will certainly be educated about how challenging the present day has become for the American worker in every industry. This is a holiday we do not take advantage of as much as we should – it is an opportunity for us to rebuild the collective voice of Labor to the point that employers and government cannot ignore us. So, this year, attend an event. Check with your AFTRA Local and your local Labor Council to see what is planned in your area and make sure your Local joins in the celebration.

For a list of locals, click here. 

Thanks for your time and have a great end to your summer, each and every one of you.

Matt Kimbrough
AFTRA National Treasurer