MLB backs SAG action

Striking actors have scored a public relations victory as their week-old work stoppage received official endorsement from the Major League Baseball players union.

The Major League Players Association has told its 750 members that they should not shoot commercials as long as actors unions are on strike against advertisers. Spokesman Greg Bouris said the MLPA took the action after being contacted by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, which launched the strike on May 1.

“We have sent correspondence to players informing them that doing commercials now would constitute doing struck work,” Bouris said.

The baseball players union has been among the nation’s most hardline labor organizations, reflected in bitter showdowns with owners that led to elimination of large parts of the 1981 and 1994 seasons. Prior to the MLPA notice going out, Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra refused to shoot a previously scheduled spot for Dunkin’ Donuts at Fenway Park in Boston.

Hold that Tiger

The unavailability of athletes and other celebrities from commercials is a crucial piece of leverage for SAG and AFTRA in pressuring advertisers to return to the bargaining table. The strike also received the blessing last week of golfer Tiger Woods, who delayed a Nike shoot, and the AFL-CIO executive council, which represents 68 unions with 13 million members.

For their part, advertisers and commercial producers have insisted that they have been able to continue with “business as usual” except for no longer using union talent. Strikers have picketed ad agencies, distributed leaflets outside casting offices to dissuade non-union actors from seeking commercial work, disrupted shoots in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco and persuaded several Teamster drivers to not cross picket lines to deliver equipment to shoots.

The unions claimed that production crews abandoned a downtown Los Angeles site for an auto commercial after about 40 pickets showed up Saturday morning.

“We obviously can’t be at every shoot, so our goal is to cost advertisers time and money,” SAG board member Chuck Sloan said. The unions plan more of the same activity this week.

Surprise tactics

“For the advertisers to say this is business as usual is just wishful thinking,” SAG president William Daniels said. “We’re planning more of the same this week but we’re going to try keeping exactly what we’re doing unknown until we actually show up.”

Advertisers and commercial producers contend they have adjusted by moving production outside the major cities and keeping locations secret until the day of the shoot.

“We’re trying to work where the unions can’t find us,” said David Perry, director of broadcast production at Saatchi and Saatchi. “As the weeks go by, I think this is going to be easier for us because we’ll know all the tricks.”

For advertisers, the most critical period will be in the coming weeks when media buyers decide if they are willing to make the same level of purchase activity for commercials produced during the strike.

Neither side has given any indication of budging from their demands, and John McGuinn, chief negotiator for advertisers, said another week might pass before federal mediators try to re-start talks. Observers expect the strike to last for several months, citing the harder-line leadership that SAG members voted in last fall.

“Because the unions are more militant and the difference on the issues is so dramatic, it looks as if the strike will be longer rather than shorter,” Perry said. “It’s going to take the actors a while to realize that we don’t need them as badly as they think we do.”

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