Advertisers, SAG break off talks

Human equation left out, Daniels sez

Negotiations between striking actors and advertisers collapsed Wednesday after 10 straight days of bargaining, dashing hopes for a settlement soon of the bitter five-month work stoppage.

Both sides rejected each other’s proposals during the final session Wednesday evening in Gotham and no new meetings are scheduled.

“We have reached an impasse,” said Screen Actors Guild prexy William Daniels. “Our chief negotiator, John McGuire, put it very eloquently in his final presentation when he told the advertisers that they’ve left the human equation out of this. Our rank-and-file members can’t make a living under their proposals.”

Reps for SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists also rejected a proposal by federal mediators for a 90-day “cooling off” period under which actors would return to work immediately under the previous contract while negotiations continued. Daniels said the proposal was unacceptable because advertisers would be able to stockpile spots with union actors during that period, taking away the unions’ leverage.

John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the ad industry, said, “We are extremely disappointed because we thought we could make a deal. They came a distance and we came a distance but we just could not get through all the issues.”

McGuinn said it would probably take a month before mediators asked negotiators to return. “That’s pure speculation but that has been their pattern,” he noted.

The strike, which began May 1, enters its 151st day today. On Monday, it will surpass the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike as the longest work stoppage in Hollywood’s history.

The collapse of talks will also underscore the growing belief among Hollywood execs that SAG and AFTRA will strike again when their TV-film contract expires next July.

Negotiators said Wednesday that they hit the wall on several fronts:

  • Advertisers and unions had reached an agreement on a proposal for increased payments for cable ads as a result of the unions dropping their demand for cable residuals but could not reach an accord on actual numbers. The ad industry’s final proposal called for a maximum of $1,850 per 13-week cycle in the third year of the contract; the unions’ final proposal called for a cap of $2,500 per cycle in the third year.

  • Advertisers had agreed to retain residuals for network TV ads but only if unions agreed to the advertisers’ cable proposal.

  • Advertisers rejected the unions’ proposal of pension and health plan contributions for ads made for the Internet along with language stating the unions would have “jursidiction” over such advertising. The ad industry wanted to defer the issue to a study.

    “They proposed taking a medium in its infancy and draping the existing contract around it,” McGuinn said.

    “”Advertisers offered a three-year study of monitoring ads to identify economic factors instead of the unions’ proposal to institute monitoring.

“I won’t say the ad industry did not negotiate in good faith but they have drawn lines in the sand and won’t budge,” Daniels said. “I’ve thrown up my arms in frustration.”

Daniels warned that high-profile stars who have endorsed the strike will go on the offensive. “We have been holding them back in deference to negotiations but they are eager to take our case to the public,” he added.

SAG has received recent backing from Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, David Hyde Pierce, Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon appearing at public events. Its strike relief fund has received $500,000 in donations during the past two weeks from Nicolas Cage, Harrison Ford, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey.

One SAG board member said he was not surprised the ad industry would not make a deal at this point. “I expected them to test our resolve one more time,” he added. “We’ve made a massive concession by dropping pay per play for cable and agreeing to a cap. so there is no way that the board or the membership would ratify the advertisers’ current proposals.”

At L.A. strike headquarters, activist Marshal Silverman said, “I’m disappointed because I thought this would end but part of me is not surprised because they under-pay and over-expose us on cable.”

After receiving word that talks had collapsed, activists picketed a non-union Milton Bradley shoot in Hollywood and announced plans to hit a non-union shoot today by Procter & Gamble at Pepperdine University. P&G will be hit with a boycott by actors now that talks have collapsed.

Reports first emerged early Wednesday that talks had collapsed but negotiators then returned for a day of bargaining at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Gotham. Unconfirmed rumors spread via the Internet that negotiations had broken down.

Speculation about a collapse in talks had been fueled by the unions’ announcement of an afternoon news conference at the hotel, which turned out to be a show of solidarity by high-profile members including Daniels, AFTRA prexy Shelby Scott, Kevin Bacon, Billy Baldwin, Richard Belzer, Richard Dreyfuss, Mia Farrow, Rosie O’Donnell, Julia Roberts, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

Negotiators began meeting Sept. 13 and have continued without a break since Sept. 18. Sources close to the talks indicated that Thomas Short, president of the Intl. Alliance of Stage Theatrical Employees, had made an appearance at the table Wednesday in support of SAG and AFTRA although Short’s reps had no comment.

Before talks collapsed, demonstrators picketed in Los Angeles at the DMB&B ad agency and in Pontiac, Mich., at a General Motors’ truck factory over non-union ads. Strike captain Michael Brennan said the GM action slowed deliveries and production as union drivers honored the picket line.

(Dan Cox in New York contributed to this report.)

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