Striking union actors, facing make-or-break negotiations with advertisers, have received a notable boost through $100,000 donation from Kevin Spacey.
The actor made the gift to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation’s assistance relief fund to support union members who have exhausted financial resources during the bitter strike against the ad industry.
“This gift is donated in the hope that others in our industry and beyond will find their own ways to help support the 100,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild whose health benefits and pension funds are at the heart and soul of this 5-month-old strike,” Spacey said.
The donation comes with SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists preparing to resume negotiations Wednesday in New York. The talks, called at the behest of federal mediators, are the first in nearly two months.
“As we return to the bargaining table, let us not forget that 80% of SAG members earn less than $5,000 per year,” Spacey said. “If the public were not informed of this, it would be easy to assume that all actors make a decent living. Find out the facts.”
Spacey, who starred with Samuel L. Jackson in “The Negotiator,” also took a jab at the industry, which has not budged since mid-April from its demand to eliminate residuals for network TV ads. “Since I did a film about it, I have one word for the other side: negotiate,” he said.
The donation is the largest single gift so far during the strike. It comes on the heels of a $10,000 donation by Jay Leno and a few weeks after SAG launched the fund with a $500,000 endowment.
SAG prexy William Daniels, who has focused on involving high-profile members in union activities, said Monday: “I was overwhelmed when Kevin called to say that he wished to make this very generous donation to the strike fund. It’s this kind of support — like the support of SAG/AFTRA Emmy nominees and winners wearing the gold solidarity ribbons last night — that has kept our members enthused and involved since the strike began on May 1.”
The unions plan to stage rallies in Los Angeles at the La Brea Tar Pits and in Gotham outside BBD&O headquarters on Wednesday to coincide with the resumption of talks. They have also made celebrity members available for interviews about the strike, with Tom Selleck booking more than a dozen TV interviews for today and Richard Dreyfuss appearing on “The Early Show” on CBS.
Dreyfuss, who has been among the most active union supporters, discussed the strike Monday on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.”
The unions are also planning to continue actions Wednesday against General Motors for non-union shoots. Strike captain Michael Brennan, who has headed over a dozen pickets to disrupt production at GM’s Michigan plants in recent weeks, said a demonstration will be staged today at the Pontiac truck plant.
Los Angeles members picketed several casting offices Monday and reported that a non-union actress punched a male picket outside a casting call. In an unsanctioned move, several activists draped a 50-foot “No Scab Actors” banner on the first “O” in the Hollywood sign, where it was visible to early morning commuters before being removed.
The ad industry stayed on the attack on the eve of resuming negotiations and blasted New York State comptroller H. Carl McCall for siding with the thespians.
“As a public servant, it is totally inappropriate for you to accuse the advertising industry of failing to bargain with the talent unions without speaking to any industry representative,” declared industry negotiators John McGuinn and Ira Shepard in a letter to McCall.
The comptroller urged AT&T chief C. Michael Armstrong last week to pull the plug on filming non-union spots during the strike and assume a leadership role to settle the dispute. McCall, noting he controls 9.5 million AT&T shares as trustee of the state’s retirement fund, said that shooting such ads will prolong the strike.
McCall noted in a press release that SAG and AFTRA are accusing the ad industry of refusing to negotiate on demands for cable residuals and Internet jurisdiction.
AT&T has responded by saying it could not intervene in the talks and will use non-union actors again.
McGuinn and Shepard told McCall that his comments were incorrect and warned him to stay out of the dispute. They argued that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 16 years ago that local and state governments could be liable for monetary damages for interfering in a private industry labor dispute covered by federal regulations.
They also termed his comments a “gross violation” of his fiduciary responsibility, but McCall spokesman Frank Sobrino said the objections will have no impact. “The letter to Armstrong does not go into the merits of the dispute but simply and clearly states that Armstrong should take a leadership role in ending the strike,” he added.