Hillman was a prominent news broadcaster in the San Francisco Bay area for decades. KPIX-TV hired him as an announcer in 1953 and he became a studio mainstay until his retirement from the station in 1992. He held every elected office in the San Francisco Local, including four terms as president, before serving as AFTRA’s national president for a membership of 41,000. By the end of his term, membership had grown to over 66,000.
A dedicated archivist and parliamentarian, he was known throughout AFTRA as the last word in the crafting of convention resolutions. Addressing the AFTRA National Convention delegates in Nashville after they elected him national president in July 1979, he described his professional beginnings during World War II: “My first job in broadcasting was at a small radio station in Idaho in 1942. Pay was $27.50 for a 48-hour week. I opened the station at 6:30 in the morning and worked until nine; returned for an hour during the lunch period; then worked again in the evening and finally signed the station off around 10:30 [at night]. The next day we started again at 6:30. Most of the time I worked a seven-day week. That was my beginning as a trade unionist. While I was studying wages and working conditions in Idaho, I learned about AFRA. I first saw the name on the labels of those big 16-inch transcription [discs] on which Treasury Department War Bonds programs were recorded … Idaho was hostile country for unions in those days. It still is. So it was not until 1948 in San Francisco that I joined AFRA.”
A long strike was just around the corner for new President Hillman: the SAG and AFTRA TV/Theatrical strike, commencing July 21, 1980. Issues concerned wage increases, pension and health increases, profit participation, pay-TV, and videocassettes and videodiscs. The strike’s disappointing outcome resulted in renewed enthusiasm to merge the two unions and the creation of a merger plan in 1981. After a February 1981 meeting with AFTRA’s Conference of Locals, Hillman declared, “This is not the first time that discussions have begun on merging AFTRA and SAG. Many of us hope that it is the last time we enter into these discussions, because for the first time, the climate exists where such discussions can be fruitful.” Hillman died on Aug. 3, 1999, just six months after the first membership vote to merge AFTRA and SAG failed to pass.
Color film footage from nearly two dozen of his KPIX-TV Channel 5 Eyewitness News reports from the 1970s, digitized by the Bay Area Television Archive (which Hillman helped found), at San Francisco State University can be accessed here: https://diva.sfsu.edu/search?q=%22Bill+Hillman%22&page=1&sort=rel&dir=asc. Subjects include Jane Fonda speaking at an anti-Richard Nixon rally, an interview with Francis Ford Coppola at American Conservatory Theater, a Black Revolution exhibit at the Oakland Museum and Sen. George Moscone announcing his candidacy for San Francisco mayor in 1974. (Moscone would win in ’75 and be assassinated in 1978 along with Supervisor Harvey Milk).
Hillman was a longtime trustee (1979 — 1999) and former chairman of the Health and Retirement Funds, and was honored with George Heller Memorial Gold Card No. 28 at AFTRA’s 1984 national convention in Chicago.