Advertisers, SAG resume negotiations

Talks continue for sixth week

Union actors resume their sixth week of commercial contract negotiations with advertisers today following a tumultuous week off.

Rather than simply taking a break and reflecting on the best tactics to achieve a new contract, leaders of the Screen Actors Guild were forced to deal with internal battles and the resignations of three of its top public voices (Daily Variety, April 5). New York PR director Jayne Wallace cited the “unprofessional and hostile” envi- ronment for the staff.

SAG’s national board also received a briefing last week about New York president Lisa Scarola’s calling New York executive director John Sucke a “disgrace” over awards show tickets. Associate national director John McGuire, who is SAG’s lead negotiator, told board members that the dispute was a “grave concern” because of its impact on morale and potential legal risk to the union.

SAG president William Daniels, who will be at the negotiations at the Sheraton Manhattan, has downplayed the week’s developments and said he was confident that the New York office can resolve its differences . He also insisted that SAG’s rank-and-file clearly supports efforts to obtain a better contract, adding, “The membership is as happy and as unified as I have ever seen.”

Both sides decided March 31 — four hours before the contract expired — to give themselves a “cooling off” period to assess the progress in the talks for a new contract, along with an open-ended extension of the existing agreement. That enabled the ad industry to continue hiring members of the SAG and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, which negotiates jointly with SAG.

The unions, which have made extensive use of their Web sites in posting information about the talks, acknowledged last week that some progress has been made in the talks but complained that advertisers have failed to address the key issues of commercials on cable and the Internet and creation of a monitoring system. Major gaps remain in areas such as wages for principal performers, with advertisers offering a 4.4% increase and actors seeking 20%.

The negotiations, which opened Feb. 14, are the first to have been launched since Daniels and his Performers Alliance slate was swept into office last fall on a platform of more aggressive bargaining. One veteran observer said, “There aren’t a lot of good signs about the possibility of a new agreement.”

But if SAG and AFTRA were to go on strike — a step that would require approval from their national boards — they could face serious challenges, including the ad industry promise to continue business as usual with non-union talent, defections within the ranks and limited public support.

SAG also faces a second set of tough negotiations that will likely start in the next few weeks with the Assn. of Talent Agents. The ATA is expected to give SAG its proposals for a revamp of the entire agreement between the organizations soon, a move that will open a six-month window for reaching a new deal.

The ATA had originally announced it would deliver the proposals by today but has backed away from committing to a specific date.

The organization is undoubtedly still smarting after spending a year negotiating with SAG over the financial-interest provisions of the agreement and then seeing the deal collapse. ATA reached what it thought was a completed agreement in mid-February but SAG opponents argued that allowing agents to own stakes in production companies created too much of a conflict of interest, and Daniels refused to allow the pact to go through.

Many agents were angered over SAG’s maneuvers and are unlikely to pay much attention if the unions ask agents to help them in a strike by refusing to supply non-union talent.

However, SAG and AFTRA have received support from the leaders of Actors Equity and International Federation of Actors. And on Friday, about 100 union members joined in a march of an estimated 3,000 striking Los Angeles County janitors in front of SAG’s headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

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