'We are not close,' sez Daniels

Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels, fresh from efforts to re-start talks in the union’s 45-day strike against advertisers, declared Wednesday the work stoppage will be lengthy.

“Unfortunately, we are not close,” Daniels said following his appearance at a midtown Manhattan rally. “We’re really at the same point we were when we started the negotiations here in New York in February. I’ve always said that this was going to be a long strike.”

Daniels’ comments came a day after federal mediators convened reps for actors and advertisers to explore the possibility of going back to the bargaining table for the first time since April 14.

Advertisers want to eliminate residuals for ads shown on network TV, which actors called a rollback; actors demand expansion of residuals to cable TV along with Internet jurisdiction and a monitoring system.

“The mediators did not find any common ground,” said Daniels, who was part of a delegation of officials from SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. “They (the advertisers) are trying to break our unions.”

Daniels and John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the advertisers, both agreed that mediators John Muir and Frank Scheets promised to check back with both sides several weeks from now.

McGuinn took a more upbeat outlook toward the prospects of resuming bargaining.

“I’m an eternal optimist, so I think it’s been helpful to have everyone talk so there’s no ambiguity,” McGuinn said. “I would not be surprised if we heard from the mediators earlier than several weeks from now.”

Changing focus

Daniels and SAG 11th VP David Jolliffe also said Wednesday that SAG and AFTRA will focus more of the strike effort toward appealing to corporate executives to push negotiators to change their bargaining positions.

“The message we want to get out is that they will still be able to pay actors less than 2% of total budgets under our proposals,” Jolliffe said. “When we talk to them, we’re going to tell them they’ve been getting away with murder on the cable side.”

Susan Sarandon, Lauren Bacall, Dick Cavett, Jerry Orbach, Joe Bologna, Lili Taylor, Ernie Hudson, Boyd Gaines, Judd Hirsch and Jay Thomas turned out in Bryant Park in a rally that drew 1,200 supporters. Academy Award winner Sarandon said the current strike will have a major impact on next year’s negotiations over the SAG/AFTRA theatrical-TV contract, which expires in July 2001.

“I think there is a lot at stake and actors are not going to roll over,” Sarandon said. “There has to be a certain point where actors say enough is enough because there are other contracts coming up. It’s an important stand, and that is why there are so many kinds of people here.”

Michelle Hurd of “Law and Order” told the crowd, “This is not a hobby that we actors do — this is a living. They want to cut our income, and they want to cut our livelihood.”

Missing the boat

Hirsch accused the ad industry of going back on earlier promises to include actors in the cable bonanza.

“We were told in 1980 that we were supposed to not rock the boat because the age of cable television was in its infancy,” he said. “The boat has been sailing for so long now that if we don’t rock it, it will sail without us.”

In a sign of SAG solidarity, the event also drew Richard Masur, who was defeated for a third term last year by Daniels in a bitter campaign that accused Masur of being a “pussycat” in recent negotiations.

The advertisers, repped by the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies and the Assn. of National Advertisers, declared Wednesday that the unions suffered a “stunning defeat” in its efforts to expand jurisdiction to Canada through interim agreements after an arbitrator ruled such agreements are not applicable to actors working under the Canadian union contract for ads to be aired exclusively in the United States.

SAG spokesman Greg Krizman said the ruling was not significant and noted such actors will still be paid residuals.

Several hundred union protesters, many dressed as Ken and Barbie, demonstrated Wednesday at Mattel’s headquarters in El Segundo against the toymaker’s refusal to sign an interim deal. Pickets also hit a Campbell’s Soup shoot at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

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