Immediate work stoppage unlikely

Negotiations between union actors and advertisers enter their fifth week today with the current three-year commercials contract due to expire in four more days.

The talks will reach a crucial milestone Tuesday with the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists expected to announce that their memberships have granted strike authorization to negotiators. Ballots were mailed out three weeks ago to the 135,000 union members.

The authorization is unlikely to lead to an immediate actors’ work stoppage. In a recent message to members, AFTRA national vice president Susan Boyd said negotiators will have several options available as the contract expiration approaches — extending the contract if both sides are close to a deal; moving to “stop the clock” at midnight Friday and working until an agreement is reached; or taking a break and resuming at a later date.

Nat’l boards must OK strike

Even if the talks collapsed, the unions would probably not strike until the middle of April since the SAG and AFTRA national boards would first have to endorse a work stoppage. The unions last struck over the commercials contract for 18 days in 1988.

Union leaders have indicated they are making some progress at the bargaining table at the Sheraton Hotel in New York but have offered no details.

The unions are expected to present the issue of cable payments this week, a source said. SAG and AFTRA are seeking changes from the current practice of unlimited reuse.

Actors are also seeking a 20% hike in base pay, a 30% increase for Spanish-language ads and establishment of a producer-funded monitoring system. Advertisers have been seeking cost concessions and have proposed a 15% increase in cable pay without changing the unlimited reuse provision.

Advertisers say biz will continue

The advertisers, represented by the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies and the Assn. of National Advertisers, have offered no comment about the negotiations but have advised members that they should be able to continue business as usual if there is a strike and recommended using non-union talent to fill the gap.

“Our experience in previous strikes has been that other craft unions will not collectively honor a SAG/AFTRA picket line,” the groups told members in a re-cent memo.

The advertisers have also asserted that production houses will be able to continue producing commercials if there is a strike and the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers has told casting agents that it expects to be able to fulfill casting requirements. Matt Miller, president of the AICP, said some members may have stepped up recent production in anticipation of a work stoppage but added that the strong activity level could simply be due to the strong economy.

“Advertising production has been a pretty healthy business recently,” Miller said.

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