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Ad biz hopeful on SAG, AFTRA pact

Negotiator remains optimistic on possible deal

Madison Avenue has received a slight shot of optimism about reaching a new deal with SAG and AFTRA.

With a contract expiration looming at midnight tonight, the ad industry’s lead negotiator has hinted that a tentative agreement may be in the offing with the the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

“As you are all aware, we’re approaching the ‘midnight hour’ in our negotiations,” said Douglas Wood in a posting Monday on a pair of industry sites. “While both sides have made major progress and I remain cautiously optimistic, the next couple of days will be critical to reaching a new agreement.”

Reps for SAG and AFTRA had no comment about the talks, citing a news blackout that was imposed when negotiations began a month ago. Talks were continuing Monday everning at the Crowne Plaza in Gotham.

Wood, a partner at Reed Smith, also asserted that Madison Avenue should be able to continue business as usual even if there’s no tentative deal immediately.

“There is no reason to believe that there will be any immediate disruption in commercial production even if we don’t come to a final agreement before midnight, March 31,” he added. “Both sides continue to have open and productive negotiations.”

Negotiators have not taken a day off since March 21. The threat of a SAG-AFTRA strike emerged March 17 with the unofficial release of a draft letter seeking a strike authorization vote from SAG and AFTRA members, although that letter hasn’t been sent out yet to members.

The industry’s initial proposal called for a compensation formula based on the ratings garnered by commercials, rather than stick with the traditional pay-per-play method along with a reduction of more than $20 million annually to their contributions to SAG and AFTRA’s pension and health plans. The unions are asking for retention of the current formulas plus 6% annual pay hikes.

SAG and AFTRA, which are jointly negotiating the deal, staged a six-month strike in 2000 over the industry’s demand to end pay-per-play while the unions insisted on — but did not achieve — pay-per-play for cable.

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