SAG-AFTRA Opens Fifth Convention

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Under the banner theme “Virtual / Vital / Visionary,” SAG-AFTRA kicked off its fifth biennial National Convention Friday afternoon. The convention began Oct. 15 and runs through Oct. 18. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher officially opened the event by inviting first responders, active duty and veteran delegates to lead the pledge of allegiance.

During the convention session, delegates nominated and elected the union’s eight national vice presidents, including the executive vice president.

Ben Whitehair was elected Executive Vice President.

The following vice-presidential candidates were elected to two-year terms effective immediately (an asterisk indicates candidates who ran unopposed):

  • Michelle Hurd, Vice President, Los Angeles
  • Ezra Knight, Vice President, New York*
  • Michele Proude, Vice President, Mid-Sized Locals
  • Suzanne Burkhead, Vice President, Small Locals
  • William “Bill” Charlton, Vice President, Actors/Performers
  • Bob Butler, Vice President, Broadcasters*
  • Janice Pendarvis, Vice President, Recording Artists/Singers*

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler also delivered a keynote address to the 480 delegates from across the country.

Shuler reflected on the state of labor during the pandemic, and the work of SAG-AFTRA to reopen the industry and safely get members back to work and better their on-set protections. “In the darkest days of the pandemic, through fear and uncertainty and isolation, you were, and continue to be, voices and faces that keep us reassured, entertained and connected.

“We have weathered extraordinary challenges, and SAG-AFTRA has been there, stepping up relentlessly for its members. You set the standard for how to get people back to work safely … [which]became best practices for others to follow.”

She also discussed the revitalization of the labor movement and the recent shift in perception of unions. “COVID has pushed us to a tipping point and working people are fed up. They’re tired of being called essential one minute, and then being disrespected and treated as disposable the next minute. There is a nationwide reckoning happening right now, and people are starting to see unions as a solution. Right now, over 100,000 union members are either on strike, or about to go on strike across the country in all kinds of industries, and it is amazing to see the solidarity of SAG-AFTRA members supporting their union siblings in all kinds of ways … We have so much opportunity ahead of us, and this is our moment to grow a bolder, more dynamic and inclusive labor movement that fights for the policies and changes that will make a tangible difference in people’s lives.”

Also available was the virtual convention expo, a resource where attendees can take a break from the business activities to network and obtain important and useful information from partner organizations.

In the evening, SAG-AFTRA broadcasted a special presentation of the George Heller Memorial Award. The George Heller Memorial Award is presented every two years at the convention and bestowed based on contributions and years of service to SAG-AFTRA or its predecessor unions. Honorees are selected by the National Honors and Tributes Committee members from around the country. This year’s recipients are as follows:

SAG-AFTRA Vice President, Actors/Performers William Charlton
Vice President, Actors/Performers William Charlton brings a deep understanding of SAG-AFTRA’s contracts and its constitution to his leadership work, which gives him the tools to develop practical solutions and effectively advocate for their implementation. Serving on a variety of committees, William has helped improve the lives of thousands of members, with a relentless focus on residuals, improving wages and strengthening working conditions.

SAG-AFTRA National Board Member Bill Mootos
National Board member Bill Mootos’ influence is felt at every level of the union. He served as president of the pre-merger SAG Boston Branch starting in 2003, and went on to serve on the national boards of both SAG and AFTRA. After playing a key role in the merger efforts, Bill continued to serve on the SAG-AFTRA National Board, devoting countless hours to a range of essential committees. Bill never forgets where he started and is a steadfast advocate for performers who live in cities outside of Los Angeles and New York.

SAG-AFTRA Chief Financial Officer Arianna Ozzanto
During her more than 17 years at SAG-AFTRA, Chief Financial Officer Arianna Ozzanto has played a central role in protecting the union’s financial strength. Her budgetary acumen, analytical skills and leadership of the union’s Accounting, Finance and Payroll departments — as well as the Membership and the Contact centers — were central to SAG-AFTRA’s ability to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring the union could emerge from the pandemic financially sound to serve its members for years to come.

SAG-AFTRA Chief Communications & Marketing Officer Pamela Greenwalt
Pamela Greenwalt, SAG-AFTRA’s chief communications and marketing officer, has built a vibrant and robust communications program spanning traditional and digital media, events, partnerships and publicity to engage and educate members, while preserving and enhancing the union’s reputation. Drawing on her many years of activism in the labor movement, Pamela has brought to SAG-AFTRA a unique organizing and political strategic mind, which has assisted every corner of the union in building strength and power to the benefit of its members.

The national convention resumed today with a report from National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, consideration of several proposed constitutional resolutions and amendments and a presentation of the American Scene Awards.

For more information about the fifth biennial SAG-AFTRA National Convention, please visit sagaftraconvention.org.

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