Introducing Marie Kelly, our new ACTRA National Executive Director

By Keith Martin Gordey
Keith Martin Gordey
ACTRA National Vice President and UBCP/ACTRA President
Keith Martin Gordey: I was talking to David Sparrow and we both expressed some apprehension when we heard you were off for a safari before you would be joining us and imagined you might be eaten by a lion…
Marie Kelly: (Laughs) Well funnily enough Keith, in the Serengeti we got to hear lions at nighttime roaring right outside of our tent.

KMG: Clearly, you are not someone who is afraid of danger so we must have picked the right person for the job.  
MK: I am not afraid of much as I’ve been through a lot in my life. I take things straight on, figure out solutions to issues and move forward. I like adventure and I am looking forward to my adventure at ACTRA – the journey I am going to have with all of you.

KMG: Three weeks in? What’s been the biggest surprise?
MK: No real surprises have set me back at all. For me, the most intriguing aspect of the entertainment business is the partnership between unions, the industry and governments. We have to fight not only for our members but for everything we need to keep and attract more work to Canada. And the struggles our members face are much more intricate, fundamental and more difficult than for those who go to work with the same employer at the same workplace from 9–to–5 every day. Our union had to fight for rights that other employees may just take for granted.

KMG: I am sure your dynamic experiences with the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) will stand you well when you negotiate for ACTRA.
MK: Bargaining on behalf of 65,000 ONA members – in 125 hospitals – yes, each round definitely had its own set of intricacies. The dynamics of bargaining for our members at ACTRA will be difficult, challenging and intriguing for me. We’ll be across the table from large and small players in our industry – many Canadian-based but others across the border. Even our government plays a role in protecting Canadian culture. I love the challenge, strategy and determination you need at every table. I draw my strength and confidence in bargaining directly from the dedicated members and leaders who form our bargaining team and from the stories our members bring us from the front lines.
Bargaining… I love the challenge and the fight.
KMG: Sounds like you will be enjoying it!
MK: There’s nothing I love more in labour relations than bargaining. For you as an actor, you know the joy of preparing for a role, performing in front of a camera and seeing a final product that looks great on screen. For me, the product is both the collective agreement we secure and the face of our members when they get a fair deal.

KMG: And bargaining is the number one thing we do as a performers’ union.
MK: It’s the number one thing any union does. It’s the time when members are most tuned-in with their union and what it does for them. It’s very important.

: You’re coming out to B.C. soon and then we’ll be travelling to Los Angeles for our consultations with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) and the CMPA (Canadian Media Producers Association). I guess there are a lot of meetings on your plate where you’ll get your feet wet in this milieu.  
MK: I am so looking forward to meeting all the players. I just attended the TAMAC (Talent Agents & Managers Association of Canada) meeting hosted by ACTRA Toronto where I got to hear the day-to-day struggles in which we are engaged. Likewise, attending meetings with UBCP/ACTRA will give me an important and unique look into our collective agreements. Eventually, I want to meet everyone at all of our branches across Canada to get a better understanding of our individual issues and meet the industry players.
In my world we say, “We need to see the colour of their eyes.”
Marie Kelly. Peirre Gautreau Photography
KMG: Yes, it’s important to build those relationships and to be physically in the room, isn’t it?
MK: At the Steelworkers union, bargaining was often “life and death” where workers had to decide whether they were prepared to forego a weekly paycheck to walk the picket line for the unknown duration of a strike. Before making that kind of drastic decision, we need to gauge the real fortitude of the other side on every issue – we need to see the real “colour of their eyes” and report it back to our members with a recommendation. That’s why, as a negotiator, it’s very important for me to understand all the players on the other side of the table and to read their body language.

KMG: I am sure you are aware the rise of non-union commercial work is an ongoing concern. British Columbia was the canary in the coal mine and it has now spread right across the country.
MK: Unfortunately, employers are all too keen to seek out the cheapest labour force even when labour rights are non-existent. In Canada, it’s a huge balancing act for us. It is not only about trying to find ways to not reduce our terms and conditions, but we also believe in our social systems, decent wages for our members and labour rights for working people all over the world. Our advocacy work with governments is an important tool we use to make sure our industry is healthy and that it continues to contribute to the Canadian economy.

KMG: ACTRA does have an advantage. We have the best talent.
MK: Canadian actors are second to none. The diversity and professionalism of our membership is appealing to producers from all over the world. History shows our homegrown Canadian talent can compete and excel at all levels in all fields.

KMG: As we go into this federal election, what do you see as our biggest challenges?
MK: We must continue to ask candidates and political parties if they’ll commit to supporting the Canada Media Fund, Telefilm Canada and the CBC/Radio-Canada. With other countries stepping up to the plate for their digital economies, we must ask all parties why Internet broadcasters are not covered by the same rules of taxation and contribution as our traditional broadcasters. Using "OTT" and "tax” together may result in kneejerk reactions from the public but it actually seems to terrify politicians (except those in Quebec and Saskatchewan). If contributions to culture continue to diminish – and the taxation base crumbles – it will get harder for us to sustain our industry with good jobs here in Canada.

KMG: Netflix, Apple, Crave…they’re all broadcasters. They just disseminate content differently than our traditional broadcasters. While our current legislation requires that Global and CTV are required to contribute to the Canada Media Fund, these digital players are currently not required to make any contribution to the creation of Canadian content.
MK: We need to create a level playing field. Really, we are just asking the government to be fiscally responsible in today’s digital economy by adapting our laws and regulations to the digital age.
Knowing the rich history of this union helps us chart our path forward.  
KMG: You have been brought up to speed by Stephen Waddell who’s been with ACTRA for almost 40 years. How’s that been?
MK: I don’t know anybody who has more knowledge than Stephen does about our collective agreements, about the industry, and about the players in it. Knowing the rich history of our union helps us chart the path forward. He’s been very good to me and I appreciate having him here to help me as I transition into the role.

KMG: No second thoughts about taking the job?
MK: Absolutely not. Not for one second. You can ask any of our staff around the office I can’t get the grin off my face. I love the fact there are a variety of challenges and fights. The bigger the fight, the bigger the sense of accomplishment. ACTRA is in a very good state and Stephen has done an amazing job helping our National Council shepherd our union. In tough times, and difficult political and economic environments, we need to continue to have a centralized voice across Canada.

KMG: I think that’s a good way to sum things up.

Marie Kelly has a strong history of representing workers’ rights, promoting gender equity and working to end harassment in the workplace. A seasoned labour lawyer, Marie came to ACTRA after six years at the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) where she represented more than 65,000 nurses and most recently held the role of CEO/CAO. Prior to the ONA, she worked for the United Steelworkers where, over the course of 22 years, she served in various capacities including becoming the first woman in North America to be appointed to the position of Assistant Director.

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