Advertisers will try to divide union members, SAG prexy warns

Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels has issued an emotional appeal for unity among the 100,000 SAG members, admitting the four-month strike against advertisers is “the most difficult challenge this guild has faced since its inception.”

Daniels, acknowledging the financial pain due to SAG members going without commercial work since May 1, warned that advertisers will use internal battles within SAG to bust the union.

“The other side has always been counting on splintering our membership,” wrote Daniels. “They are using every tactic to undermine our faith in each other, our solidarity and to thereby try to defeat us. We will never let that happen.”

Advertisers have claimed that they have been able to keep up prestrike levels of production despite the strike by using non-union actors, but union leaders have insisted that production has fallen in quantity and quality. Daniels asserted that the new fall television lineup and the Olympics have no new spots, although ad industry reps claim otherwise, and predicted that profit margins will fall as a result.

The letter comes at a time when SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are less than two weeks away from resuming bargaining with advertisers. The key issue continues to be advertisers’ demand — unchanged since negotiations started in mid-February — to eliminate residuals for network television ads in favor of upfront buyouts.

Union negotiators met Thursday to review strategy at SAG headquarters in Los Angeles.

“I know many of you are tired, frustrated and looking for someone to blame,” wrote Daniels, “but remember, if we had accepted the offer of the advertisers, we would have forever eliminated the ability of actors to make a living shooting commercials.”

Solidarity on strategy

He also urged members put aside their differences on strategies. Advertisers insist that the system of payment needs to be modernized and that their offer amounts to a 17% pay raise — conclusions that are bitterly disputed by SAG and AFTRA, who contend that the buyout would amount to a pay cut on typical commercials. Although non-union actors have performed extensively in spots during the strike, few SAG and AFTRA members have crossed picket lines.

Daniels thanked the membership for their efforts so far. “No one said it was going to be easy,” wrote Daniels, who was elected last fall on a pledge to get tough at the bargaining table. “But no one could have predicted the level of determination, ingenuity, strength and solidarity of our membership.”

He also urged members to put aside their differences on how to conduct the strike, which could outlast the 22-week writers strike in 1988 as the longest work stoppage in Hollywood history.

“Though you may not agree with all of the strategies and tactics of those who’ve been designated to make decicisons during the strike, I ask you to always remember that we are all on the same team,” Daniels said.

Mobilized against GM

The latest strategy has been a frontal assault on General Motors, with the unions staging more than a dozen demonstrations Thursday to protest the automakers’ continued use of non-union shoots. GM has insisted that the actions have had no impact on its operations.

In Los Angeles, about 100 demonstrators hit the La Brea GM dealership with former SAG prexy Ed Asner showing up for interviews with news crews. “We’re just trying to keep our heads above water in this wonderfully growing economy,” he said.

Other targets included a GM parts plant in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Fe Springs, where several Teamster trucks refused to cross the line; GM regional headquarters in Manhattan; car dealerships in Orlando, Fla, San Diego and San Francisco, a Portland parts plant; and assembly plants in Janesville, Wis., Pontiac, Mich and Doraville, Ga.

Teamsters Local 528 honored the picket line of two dozen actors and refused to pick up new vehicles from the Doraville plant, according to local president Ken Hilbish. He estimated that more than 600 new vehicles went undelivered as a result.

“This is an issue that could be easily corrected by GM but they have chosen to squeeze actors instead,” Hilbish said. “We sympathize with them because we face the same problem with corporations trying to shift our work to non-union employees for unfair wages.”

Strike captain Gordon Drake said that picketing slowed production at the GM truck plant in Pontiac after the operators who lift engines into new vehicles refused to cross the picket line.

SAG has also stepped up efforts to book high-profile members on talkshows to discuss the work stoppage and its financial impact. “People believe that actors make huge salaries and lead glamorous lives but 80% of SAG members make less than $5,000 a year,” said Bebe Neuwirth during an appearance Thursday on ABC’s “The View.” “Actors’ livelihoods are at stake.”

On the same show, Susan Sarandon said actors have lost their houses because of the strike and blamed advertisers for not budging from their proposal to eliminate residuals. Tim Robbins is scheduled to appear tonight on “CBS Late Night With David Letterman.”

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