Unions, ad talks halted

'Impasse' reached sez Daniels; no new meetings scheduled

HOLLYWOOD — Negotiations between striking actors and advertisers collapsed Wednesday after 10 straight days of bargaining, dashing hopes for a settlement of the bitter five-month work stoppage.

Both sides rejected each other’s proposals during the final session Wednesday evening and no new meetings are scheduled.

“We have reached an impasse,” said Screen Actors Guild prexy William Daniels. “Our chief negotiator, John McGuire, put it very eloquently in his final presentation when he told the advertisers that they’ve left the human equation out of this. Our rank-and-file members can’t make a living under their proposals.”

Reps for SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists also rejected a proposal by federal mediators for a 90-day “cooling off” period under which actors would return to work immediately under the previous contract while negotiations continued. Daniels said the proposal was not acceptable because advertisers would be able to stockpile spots with union actors during that period, taking away the unions’ leverage.

Negotiators hit the wall on several fronts:

  • Advertisers would not agree to the union proposal for a “tiered” buyout payments for cable ads. Unions had agreed to drop their demand for cable residuals.

  • Advertisers had agreed to retain residuals for network TV ads but only if the unions agreed to the advertisers’ cable proposal.

  • Advertisers rejected the unions’ proposal of making pension and health plan contributions for ads made for the Internet.

  • Advertisers offered to agree to a three-year study of monitoring of ads, which the unions rejected.

“I won’t say the ad industry did not negotiate in good faith but they have drawn lines in the sand and won’t budge,” Daniel said. “I’ve thrown up my arms in frustration.”

Daniels also said the high-profile stars who have backed the strike will go on the offensive immediately. “We have been holding them back in deference to the negotiations but they are now ready to go out and take our case to the public,” he added.

Reports first emerged early Wednesday that talks had collapsed but negotiators returned for a day of bargaining at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Gotham. Unconfirmed rumors, spread via the Internet, that negotiations had broken down.

The rumors caused a flood of calls to strike center phone banks in Los Angeles and New York, even though the Web sites for SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists proclaimed that the talks were continuing.

Speculation about a collapse in talks had been fueled by the unions’ announcement of an afternoon news conference at the hotel, which turned out to be a show of solidarity by high-profile members including Daniels, AFTRA prexy Shelby Scott, Kevin Bacon, Billy Baldwin, Richard Belzer, Richard Dreyfuss, Mia Farrow, Rosie O’Donnell, Julia Roberts, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

Speakers at the event did not address specific issues of the negotiations, which have been attended by Daniels, Dreyfuss and Scott.

Negotiators began meeting Sept. 13 and have continued without a break since Sept. 18. No official comment about the substance of the talks has emerged due to a gag order imposed by federal mediators.

Sources close to the talks indicated that Thomas Short, president of the Intl. Alliance of Stage Theatrical Employees, had made an appearance at the talks in support of SAG and AFTRA although Short’s reps had no comment.

Union demonstrators picketed in Los Angeles at the DMB&B ad agency and in Pontiac, Mich., at a General Motors’ truck factory. Strike captain Michael Brennan said the GM action, the latest in more than two dozen pickets at the automaker’s plants, slowed deliveries and production significantly as union drivers honored the picket line.

(Dan Cox in New York contributed to this report.)

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