Civil-rights group takes aim at ad industry

The NAACP has endorsed the four-month strike by union actors against advertisers and pledged that it will hit hard the ad industry if it does not reach a deal soon.

“We’ve come to Los Angeles to stand in solidarity,” NAACP president Kweisi Mfume said Thursday at the national headquarters of the Screen Actors Guild. “So if the advertisers cannot settle this dispute, they should expect to be hearing from the NAACP. We plan to take our case to the court of public opinion.”

The civil-rights group, which has been using its clout to pressure television networks to boost diversity efforts, also announced that it had signed an interim agreement with SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. The pact retroactively covers get-out-the-vote public-service announcements that were shot in July without an interim pact.

SAG president William Daniels called the PSA shoots a “glitch” that enabled the union and the NAACP to reaffirm their longtime commitment to each other. “This announcement should send a clear message to Madison Avenue and the advertisers,” he said.

Mfume said his organization’s backing of SAG stemmed partly from the union’s ongoing efforts to broaden opportunities for minorities. “This union has meant a lot to diversity over the years and many of the successes would not have taken place without it,” he added.

Mfume said he was not surprised at what he called the “intransigence” of advertisers during negotiations, pointing out that the ad industry has dragged its feet on efforts to broaden TV network programming.

“The advertisers would argue that they are operating in stealth mode as disinterested parties in diversity efforts, but there is clear culpability on their part because they are the ones spending the money,” he added. “They will be hard-pressed to explain why they have not embraced the goals of diversity.”

The ad industry issued a final salvo before negotiations resume next Wednesday, announcing it shot over 2,000 ads in August, up 16% from July, to buttress its claim that the unions have not impacted its ability to produce new commercials.

Union fees fall

Through its joint policy committee, ad industry negotiators also said SAG members saw session fees from ad work on interim spots total $161,743, a 97% drop from August 1999’s total of $5.71 million. Non-union session fees last month totaled $3.84 million.

“The figures did not surprise us at all,” said John McGuinn, chief negotiators for the ad industry. He also said that federal mediators asked recently that those involved in bargaining have asked for a news blackout on comment about the substance of proposals prior to next Wednesday’s resumption of talks.

Union officials questioned the veracity of the industry’s figures and contended that the number of new ads airing has plunged because of declining production quality and unavailability of celebrities. “The industry’s numbers are as reliable as their monitoring on commercials, which is why we’re asking for a monitoring system,” SAG spokesman Greg Kirzman said.

SAG and AFTRA continued Thursday their campaign against General Motors with pickets blocking a hydromatic plant in Romulus, Mich., and components facilities in Beaverton, Ore., and Santa Fe Springs.

GM, which has been targeted for shooting non-union spots, has insisted that the three weeks of pickets have had no impact on operations. But Thursday’s Michigan picket led to more than 100 Teamster truckers refusing to drive into the plant, according to strike captain Michael Brennan.

Activists also hit a non-union Porsche shoot in Alhambra. And in one of the few incidents of trouble during the strike, a scuffle broke out during a demonstration outside the casting of a non-union “Got Milk?” shoot in Los Angeles, with two pickets alleging they were attacked by two non-union actors who objected to being photographed.

In New York, over 1,100 SAG, AFTRA and Actors Equity rank-and-file members jammed into the Royale Theater on Thursday to cheer on high-profile thesps. Philip Bosco introduced the proceedings with his own personal battle cry: “Ladies and gentlemen of the press, you have your headlines, this is union busting, pure and simple.”

Bosco was one of numerous celebs who occupied the set of the Royale’s current play, “Copenhagen,” in which he stars.

Also present were Sam Waterston, Treat Williams, John Shea, Richard Dreyfuss, Blair Brown, Danny Aiello, F. Murray Abraham, Celeste Holm, John Turturro, Tony Lo Bianco, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Bill Irwin, Rob Morrow, Charles Durning, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Joe Mantegna and Harry Belafonte.

Divine perspective

Comic Robert Klein emceed the affair, pointing out that he has had experience in the commercial sector.

“I was the voice of God in the Hebrew National Frankfurter commercials,” he said. “God got a raise last year. They were selling a lot of frankfurters.”

Belafonte urged members to go to rallies and get arrested, noting, “Getting arrested is a hoot. It is so much fun.”

H. Carl McCall, New York state comptroller, told members he was using the 9.5 million shares of AT&T that his New York State Common Retirement Fund owns to push the company to shoot commercials with union members and end the strike.

Robbins urged striking members to attend a rally Wednesday and bring five friends.

“That would give us 5,000 to 6,000 people,” he said. “If we have 6,000 people in the streets in New York, it’s hard for the news media to ignore us.”

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

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