Actors vote to strike over blurbs

SAG, AFTRA members make unanimous decision

The leaders of Hollywood’s unionized actors voted unanimously Tuesday night to go on strike May 1 against television and radio advertisers.

“We’re asking for fair wages at a time of prosperity for the industry,” said Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels. “The industry’s proposed rollbacks are absurd.”

The 71-0 vote was taken at a meeting Tuesday evening of the western section of the joint national board of SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, held at SAG’s Los Angeles headquarters.

The key issue driving the actors to strike is pay.

SAG and AFTRA have demanded that the “pay-per-use” pay structure — in which actors are compensated based on the number of times a commercial runs — be extended to cover cable television.

Advertisers, represented by the Assn. of National Advertisers and the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, on the other hand, want the current cable “flat-rate buyout” to cover broadcast TV.

The outcome of the vote had been a foregone conclusion after the eastern section of the SAG-AFTRA joint board had voted unanimously Sunday by a 79-0 margin for a strike. Negotiations had collapsed two days earlier despite the efforts of federal mediators.

The two sides had spent six weeks in negotiations but left the talks with major differences in positions.

“The industry is trying to gut our contract,” said AFTRA national president Shelby Scott after Tuesday’s vote.

The work stoppage, which would only affect commercials, would be the first actors’ strike since 1988, when SAG and AFTRA stopped working on ads for 18 days. With the actors taking a more militant stance than in previous negotiations, it appears unlikely the unions will return to the bargaining table without a significantly sweetened offer.

The move by the unions, which represent 135,000 actors, carries significant economic consequences for members. SAG members earned $603 million in 1998 from commercials.

Advertisers are unlikely to feel much impact over the short term since they can fall back on using previously run spots. For shooting new ads, they can either use non-union talent or sign an interim agreement that allows them access to SAG and AFTRA members by committing advertisers to whatever terms a new contract contains.

“There will have to be significant movement in what the other side is proposing for us to go back to the table,” Daniels said Tuesday.

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