SAG’s point driven home

Protests cause Lincoln Mercury to halt ad shoots

Lincoln Mercury, citing the “emotions” kicked up by the eight-week strike by union actors against advertisers, will stop filming commercials for its 2001 model year for the duration of the work stoppage.

Wednesday’s announcement came a day after the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists had demonstrated against the automaker and ad agency Young & Rubicam over use of an Anglo stunt driver in blackface portraying an African-American driver. The unions contended the “paint down” at the non-union shoot was racist, a claim Y&R labeled “ridiculous.”

Change of heart

But the automaker and Y&R took a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday, saying they do not condone misrepresentation of an actor’s ethnicity.

“The nature of SAG’s attack on Lincoln Mercury has heightened our awareness of the emotions in this labor dispute,” the companies said. “We have done nothing inappropriate and do not want to be used as an issue in this debate.”

Lincoln Mercury spokesman Jim Trainor also said parent Ford Motor had previously decided against any shoots since the strike started. “We hope this gets settled soon,” he added.

SAG spokesman Greg Krizman said the move represented a “victory” for the unions. “We hope other companies follow suit,” he added.

The move came on the same day that SAG’s national executive committee fine-tuned the procedure for fast-track disciplinary proceedings against strikebreakers. More than a dozen SAG members, including Los Angeles Laker Shaquille O’Neal, Super Bowl star Kurt Warner and retired Gen. Colin Powell, have defied the union and performed struck work.

Inquisition looming

No date has been set for trial board hearings, which could result in expulsion from SAG.

Several hundred union members also took part in a concert and demonstration at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles, a few blocks from a massive celebration for the Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball championship. More than 100,000 fans showed up for the latter event and were particularly enthusiastic over O’Neal, the season’s most valuable player.

SAG has labeled O’Neal as a strikebreaker for taping an “I’m going to Disneyland” ad after the final game Monday; O’Neal’s agent proclaimed the spot constituted a public-service announcement, as the proceeds were donated to a charity for underprivileged children.

SAG members in the Los Angeles area demonstrated Wednesday at an Allstate Insurance shoot in Pasadena; at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood to protest a Mattel shoot; and outside Universal Studios, where several shoots were scheduled.

Membership awards

The number of demonstrations underscore the success of SAG’s program to give union membership to non-union actors who contribute 80 hours of volunteer work.

Additionally, several hundred non-union actors have joined a waiting list to get a SAG card through the volunteer program despite uncertain odds for achieving union membership.

SAG officials report that as many as 50 actors per day are signing up for the volunteer program, which drew nearly 1,200 non-union actors last month as part of SAG’s outreach efforts during its strike against advertisers. The non-unionists have become among the most active in picketing shoots, ad agencies and casting offices over the past month.

Those currently seeking to join the program, which was initiated in mid-May as a way to combat strike-breaking activity, have been told this week that they will have to wait until mid-July to attend an orientation class. They are also explicitly warned there is no guarantee they will be able to join since the strike may end before they log 80 hours of work.

The volunteer program, under which dozens of actors have already become members, was capped for an indefinite period at the end of May. “We wanted to make sure we did not have so many signups that we could not monitor people,” explained program coordinator Tom O’Keefe.

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