Ad rep warns thesps of permanent exclusion

The already-bitter rhetoric heated up Tuesday in the actors strike against the ad industry with industry negotiators warning that the biz can operate permanently without union actors.

As part of a recap of the last week’s failed talks, negotiator Ira Shepard said the leaders of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are running the risk of being forever excluded from commercial production if they do not agree to the industry’s demands.

“If they fail to join with the industry in our attempt to modernize this contract, they may be ending a productive partnership that has brought them prosperity in the past and can continue to bring them prosperity in the future,” Shepard said. “The choice is theirs. We trust they will come to their senses sooner rather than later.”

Town hall meeting

Shepard’s inflammatory comment — threatening that the industry will simply abandon working with union actors — will undoubtedly be used by SAG and AFTRA to reinforce their allegations of union-busting. SAG and AFTRA, which will hold a town hall meeting about the strike today at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles, have been outraged by advertisers’ ongoing refusal to alter their April 14 “best and final” offer.

Union leaders have insisted they will never accept the industry’s demand to abandon residuals for network ads in favor of flat-rate buyouts, claiming that the proposal amounts to a wage cut.

John McGuinn, lead negotiator for the advertisers, denied Tuesday that the industry wants to dismantle the unions.

“Working without union actors is not the way we want to do this,” he added. “But one unfortunate product of the strike has been that the industry has become more comfortable in working with non-union talent.”

In a clear attempt to drive a wedge between union leaders and the rank-and-file members, Shepard and McGuinn also called the SAG/AFTRA leaders “irresponsible” for their conduct in negotiations and noted that union actors have given up nearly $200 million in payments during the strike, now in its 87th day. They continued to insist they are making a “generous” offer that includes a 17% increase in basic rates and up to 350% for cable work — figures the unions claim are taken out of context.

SAG prexy William Daniels said McGuinn and Shepard’s attacks were a “disappointment” but not a surprise.

“They have repeatedly misled the media and the public with ‘false advertising’ about these talks,” he added. “I think they’ve fallen in love with the idea that they’re going to get a rollback. These are very emotional, almost unprofessional comments they’re making.”

As for the allegation of being irresponsible, AFTRA chief negotiator Mathis Dunn said: “It’s sad to see professional negotiators resort to name-calling during a serious labor dispute. What about the millions being wasted on substandard non-union commercials that will be scrapped the instant the strike is over?”

In Denver, about 80 supporters attended a rally headed by Rick Schroder, who acted in more than 60 commercials as a child. In Los Angeles, supporters picketed at a pair of McDonald’s, an AT&T wireless store and at Universal Studios over a non-union Sprint shoot.

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