SAG-AFTRA Heats Up Campaign Against Non-Union Commercials

SAG-AFTRA Campaign Against Non-Union Commercials Heats

SAG-AFTRA has amped up its 3-month-old campaign against performing work in the fast-growing non-union commercial sector.

Dubbed the Commercials Organizing and Recapture Initiative, the campaign aims to expand the jurisdiction of the performers’ union over commercials work, which currently generates $1 billion annually in performer earnings covered by the union’s contract with the ad industry.

The union has held five townhall meetings with members, including a pair this week in Los Angeles. Thanks to information sent in by members, SAG-AFTRA caught 40 non-union commercials being produced by advertisers already signed to the commercials contracts — and turned all of those into union commercials, according to chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez.

Rodriguez told Variety that the campaign has clearly raised awareness among members. “We’ve improved our information-gathering system,” he added.

Lori Hunt, the union’s national director of commercial contracts, added, “Many of them are national advertisers who have farmed out the spots to non-union producers.”

SAG-AFTRA also disclosed in a recent message to members that more than a dozen members were referred to the SAG-AFTRA Legal Department for Global Rule 1 disciplinary proceedings based on evidence gathered as part of this organizing initiative.

“Disciplinary charges are heard and decided by committees of fellow SAG-AFTRA members,” the message noted. “Consequences for working off the card include fines, suspension and expulsion from the union.”

Union officials did not elaborate, noting that policy prevents them from commenting on disciplinary matters.

The initiative is taking place less than a year before SAG-AFTRA’s current contract with the ad industry expires on March 31. Rodriguez has noted that campaign is not linked to talks on a successor deal.

Douglas Wood, who handles negotiations for the ad industry, had no comment on the SAG-AFTRA initiative. He also told Variety that the date for the contract talks will be set in the fall.

The union’s efforts to mobilize its 160,000 members on commercials work grew out of January’s announcement by SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard about forming the President’s Task Force for Education, Outreach and Engagement in order to spark more activism from members. Members began receiving a package of materials in May that included a “Mythbusters” section, aimed at portraying non-union commercials work as poorly paid and without protections, and “Membership Advantages,” touting the advantages of SAG-AFTRA membership.

The campaign has not mentioned the bitter six-month commercials strike in 2000, during which SAG and AFTRA staged hundreds of protests and launched a boycott against Tide and Ivory Soap. In the aftermath, it banned 75 thesps for periods ranging from six months to five years and fined Elizabeth Hurley and Tiger Woods $100,000 each for performing in non-union spots during the strike.

The strike became a major issue in subsequent election campaigns, with moderates contending it was unnecessary while activists argued that advertisers’ hard-line stance left SAG with no other option.

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  1. FormerSig says:

    This whole “Commercials Organizing & Recapture” idea is hilarious. “Fee-FiCOR-fum!” The PROBLEM is that SAG-AFTRA clings to a state-of-the-art 1979 contract! The residuals structure in no way reflects how “media” is bought today! By clinging to “the old formulas” instead of being innovative and restructuring a FAIR contract to advertisers in order to actually generate work for their members, the unions drive away FAR, FAR more advertisers from wanting to sign. I was a signatory for over 20 years, but the last few made it impossible to win bids against non-signatory producers because of the antiquated residuals formulas—designed for national spots running on 3 major networks and this “new fangled” cable thingy! Web, interactive or other “new media” residuals formulas make it completely out of the realm for the regional advertiser—where most “work” actually happens–and we have all this hand wringing by the union over all the national work THEY single-handedly have driven away. The article mentions the strike of 2000—the one that ran six months & drove BILLIONS of dollars of production work to other countries. Until that ill-fated strike, most 4A’s agencies did not know you could get a quality acting product outside union rules & stronghold jurisdictions. They learned. Quickly. (And were able to package team vacations to international destinations on what they saved on union residuals.) You never heard of “production incentives” until individual states started trying to buy that work back domestically (but more successfully in right-to-work states) in 2003-4.

    Without writing a full article (though I certainly could!), the union will NEVER recoup what it has driven away until it learns a very basic lesson: Each commercial project is individual and has its own creative and it’s own share of the overall annual budget factored in. Any advertiser who signs its life away as a “signatory” to those union commercial contracts is an idiot. They know it—and have learned the hard way by tactics like “we’ve turned 40 non-union commercials into union ones” by going after the advertisers. Thing is, those advertisers were “signed,” so the union COULD go after them! The union has ZERO effect on non-signatories. Zilch. Nada. So the union can only “enforce” against those stupid enough to give them permission—to go after ANYTHING THEY DO. That’s the “benefit” to advertisers to becoming a full signatory. The union did away with “one project only” agreements (except for a regional broadcast only spot—if it’s put online, the advertiser has to upgrade to full, national signatory status). How idiotic.

    Meanwhile, we have thousands and thousands of companies smart enough to not sign away their next 3-4 years’ advertising future by agreeing to doing every single project they do “union” for the duration of the contract. Rule One is absolutely archaic—and if the union wants to actually help “get work opportunities” for its members, it would do away with it all together: have producers put union members on a contract and negotiate freely for those who aren’t members. But Rule One is a cash cow for the union to cull pension & health “contributions” (lol) for non-members’ work—most of whom will never earn enough to claim the benefits! And that’s what Rule One guarantees—EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE CAST (union or not) gets put on a contract, complete w/ P&H contributions. And anyone who makes the minimum annual earnings (union or not) is entitled to take them. With a model so “brilliant”—WHY would anyone want to join (to pay dues for something they can earn without joining)? More importantly, WHY would any (sane) advertiser sign away ALL their creative (conceived or not) budgets to “union contract terms” by becoming a signatory just to be able to hire “union members” every now & then?

    The union is its own worst enemy. Because it’s leadership desperately clings to a “buuuuutttt thiiiiiis is how weeeee’ve alllllllwaaaaaayyyyys done it” death-knell whine, instead of showing forward-thinking leadership and working to make its terms more attractive to both advertisers AND new members. Members don’t understand the economics of production—they just believe anyone making a spot has buckets of cash laying around. Moreover, union leadership pitbulls can only persecute advertisers, agencies & production companies who are signed. The result is overwhelming: fewer & fewer advertisers/agencies/production companies are signed each contract. More work goes non union. The country has moved overwhelmingly right-to-work and most of my fellow producers do whatever they can to stay out of the 4 bastions of union-heavy-handed tactic places: California, New York, Illinois and Michigan. Coincidentally, the most “closed(minded)-shop” states in the country…where state law props up the union contracts to have even more muscle.

    Best thing for all involved? Innovate the commercials contract to reflect THIS century’s technology & advertising media buying patterns…make it something producers are willing to be a part of, instead of actively running from.

  2. Patrick says:

    I’m more concerned with them fixing these garbage old deals they have with cable networks. Most actors can make more staying home collecting unemployment than working a Disney or Nickelodeon etc show

  3. Billy Woody says:

    Aren’t wages supposed to be based on supply and demand for a certain skill or talent?

  4. Laineybean says:

    I’m with Grammargirl on the comment below. No one needs to recruit actors to the union, who wants more actors in SAG? In fact the opposite is true. The more union actors work union jobs, the better we all are across the board, the higher the bar in terms of legit earnings over the long term, health insurance (which is fantastic by the way), earned unemployment benefits when a job ends, pension, and set safety standards to name a few. Did I mention RESIDUALS??? The SAG campaign is long overdue as to raising awareness as to the loss of the working actor’s income based on the largest corporations and advertisers in the world wanting to get it cheap and get it over with. As in non-union, as in NO to residuals, NO to health insurance, NO to retirement/pension investing, NO to set safety standards, NO to set breaks and basics while working unforeseeable hours, NO to professionalism. Unions came about because it empowered workers and their rights by setting boundaries and standards, fair wages and working conditions. Anyone that doesn’t see those as valuable needs to take a look at why.

  5. Sag member says:

    Yea its a campaign to recruit non union actors to join the union! Its bullshit!!. There not going after producers who keep producing non union. There making up for the money they’re losing from members going FI CORE!!!!

    WHY don’t you do a story on that Variety?? Do a story on how corrupt the union has become.
    They are working for producers not dues paying members!!

    Members need to vote OUT Ken howard and david white to restore Union work across the board. And can get the residual pay you deserve so actors can make a living again!

    • grammargurl says:

      Actually, there has not been an increase in members going Fi-Core (it’s something like 1.5% and staying steady, according to SAG-AFTRA’s numbers). There has, however, been an increase in union members doing non-union work. I think the union has to go after both producers/advertisers and rule-one-breakers. You seem passionate — I’m thinking you could put your energy into good use volunteering to make changes in the union from within. (Also, you should use “they’re” not “there.”)

      • Laurel says:

        My sentiments exactly, @grammargurl! (Although excelling in English isn’t part of their job descriptions so guess it doesn’t matter…?)

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