SAG taking on strikebreakers

Sanctions include expulsion, suspension, fines

The Screen Actors Guild, targeting strikebreakers as its work stoppage against advertisers enters its eighth week, will soon launch fast-track disciplinary proceedings against members who cross picket lines.

The creation of trial boards will mean that prominent strikebreakers such as pro footballers Kurt Warner and Terrell Davis may be kicked out of SAG several weeks from now. The pair defied pickets and a banner-carrying airplane last week in shooting a Campbell’s Soup ad at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The union’s toughened procedures — approved earlier this month by its national executive board — are going into effect following last week’s failed attempt by federal mediators to re-start negotiations with advertisers, as both sides refused to soften their bargaining positions.

Leaders of SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have promised to increase pressure on the ad industry.

Instructions on violations

As a result, SAG officials have started distributing forms to members alleging violations of Rule 1(A) of SAG’s regulations, which explicitly bars members from performing struck work.

Trial boards, specifically formed to handle strikebreakers, will be set up around the country, rather than the usual procedure of using disciplinary review committees.

“We will be fair and follow procedure to the letter,” a top SAG official said. “We need to make people think twice about being strikebreakers.”

Besides expulsion, sanctions can include suspension and fines that can total the amount of compensation received.

Strikebreakers noted

Thus far, notable strikebreakers have included football players Keyshawn Johnson and Eddie George, who taped an Adidas spot, and retired General Colin Powell, who went ahead with a shoot for his charity to help disadvantaged youth. But dozens of other lesser-known members have performed in spots since the actors went on strike on May 1.

Advertisers insist that they have been able to maintain a steady supply of new product, mostly through using non-union talent and locations outside the traditional centers of production in Los Angeles and New York, thus avoiding pickets.

Permitted days for off-lot shoots in Los Angeles County have fallen 67% to 108 during the first 16 days of June, compared with 323 days in the same period of 1999, according to the Entertainment Industry Development Corp.

EIDC figures showed not a single ad permit was taken out last Wednesday and only one last Monday.

SAG takes action

During the weekend, SAG stunt drivers attempted to disrupt a Lincoln Mercury shoot near Palm Springs, and demonstrators continued to picket outside Universal Studios, where as many as seven spots were scheduled to shoot.

SAG officials said actor Elliot Gould went on the lot Friday to encourage performers to leave commercial shoots as part of an initiative to involve high-profile members.

The unions plan to hit Universal again today along with Mattel corporate headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of El Segundo. They also plan to take part in an AFL-CIO demonstration Wednesday at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles.

The two sides have been unable to come near a resolution on a new contract, with the dispute centering on advertisers’ contention that they can no longer afford to pay residuals to actors for network TV ads.

Industry says ‘exorbitant’

The industry has portrayed the unions’ proposals to extend residuals to cable as exorbitant. For example, the ad industry has claimed talent costs on an actual nine-actor ad would amount to $118,130 under its proposal and $499,723 under the unions’ last offer.

Union leaders contend that advertisers are benefiting from a booming economy and insist that talent costs will remain less than 2% of total production budgets under their proposals.

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