The Screen Actors Guild, attempting to soften the sting of its four-month strike against advertisers, has announced a $500,000 national strike relief fund for actors who have exhausted their benefits.
“Fellow performers, your union will not let you down,” proclaimed actor and union activist Martin Sheen during a news conference at SAG headquarters in Los Angeles. “We will not allow your families to be put out of their homes.”
The announcement included a $10,000 pledge in assistance from the AFL-CIO, which will set up a food bank operation in Los Angeles and will co-sponsor a seminar next week with SAG titled “How to Survive When the Paycheck Stops.”
“We are very behind the strike and will be until you win,” said Miguel Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor.
SAG prexy William Daniels said the fund — kicked off with a $500,000 endowment from the SAG Foundation — has been augmented by donations from high-profile performers such as Britney Spears and ‘N Sync and from strikebreakers who returned their fees after becoming remorseful over crossing picket lines.
Daniels insisted Thursday the union remains financially healthy despite the toll of the strike. But advertisers have estimated members of SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have given up as much as $200 million in fees and residuals since they began striking May 1.
Ad industry negotiator John McGuinn has also expressed concern that reduced contributions from members may force the board of the SAG/Producers pension and health plan to either cut benefits or raise eligibility standards when the panel meets in early October. Ad spots generate over one-third of all contributions to the plan.
“We are still getting contributions from commercials made by SAG members before the strike but those are drying up so the reduction is a concern,” said McGuinn, who sits on the board. But he stressed that no decision will be made before the meeting.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” McGuinn said.
To qualify for the strike funds, SAG members will need to have earned at least $7,500 during each of the last five years. But actor Elliott Gould, speaking at the news conference, said any member who is faced with financial problems should contact the union.
“If you need help, don’t be afraid to make that call,” he added.
Negotiators are scheduled to meet Sept. 13 in New York in the third such gathering since the strike started. The ad industry has demanded a change in network residuals, which actors have labeled a rollback.
Contreras pledged increased involvement by other unions in upcoming actions by SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.
“We need to make this strike higher profile than it is now for the general public, like we did with the janitors,” Contreras added. “The idea of taking back what the actors already have is criminal.”
Other signs of the strike’s impact have recently emerged. The Cunningham-Escott-Dipene agency will suspend operations next week at its Chicago office, staffed by eight employees. Agency prexy T.J. Escott said, “It’s sad that we have to close through no fault of our own.”
Also, the Assn. of Talent Agents, which reps over 100 agencies, has frozen current dues for the duration of the strike, according to members.
SAG and AFTRA plan to continue demonstrations at General Motors plant entrances with the goal of persuading other union members, such as Teamsters, to honor picket lines. Demonstrators, who object to GM’s use of non-union spots, plan to hit the Hamtramck assembly plant near Detroit today and have scheduled demonstrations at a variety of GM plants next week.
Although GM has insisted recent pickets have had no impact, strike captain Michael Brennan said the refusal of truck drivers to cross picket lines has significantly slowed operations at Hamtramck. “The city of Detroit is abuzz right now over what we’re doing,” he added.
Strike supporters demonstrated at a McDonald’s in Hollywood on Thursday and at Pizza Hut and Degree non-union shoots.