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SAG-AFTRA Heats Up Campaign Against Non-Union Commercials

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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