HOLLYWOOD — The head of the Assn. of Talent Agents has blasted ad industry negotiators for dragging their feet in returning to the bargaining table with striking actors.
“We find it irresponsible that the advertisers are refusing to meet prior to the middle of September,” said Karen Stuart, ATA’s chief director. “Our membership is very disappointed.”
Negotiations in the strike, now entering its 17th week, are set to resume Sept. 13 even though the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists had sought an Aug. 30 start. Ad industry negotiators have maintained that the latter date, agreed to last week, was the earliest they could meet.
Stuart, whose organization represents over 100 agencies, said the advertisers should have given a higher priority to resolving the strike.
“The delay shows disrespect not only for the actors but for many other groups because the strike is having a far-reaching economic impact,” she added. “Times are tough for a lot of people working in the business.”
Stuart’s comments underscore the frustration within Hollywood over the length of the strike and the resulting loss of business from commercials. The ad industry is holding off on new spots, using non-union talent in locations outside Los Angeles or shooting spots without actors.
The Sept. 13 meeting will be the third between actors and advertisers since the strike started May 1. A one-day session in June produced no formal talks and federal mediators stopped negotiations after two days in mid-July after declaring the two sides were so far apart that continuing would have been unproductive.
Advertisers have not changed their bargaining position, which includes elimination of network residuals, since mid-April. Actors have modified their proposal for cable residuals and are seeking a monitoring system and Internet jurisdiction.
Stuart also said the ATA has continued to fully support SAG and AFTRA since the strike started and asked agents to not submit clients for struck work. “We are still optimistic about a resolution,” she added.
ATA and SAG face their own set of negotiations to change agency rules in the coming months. ATA officially notified SAG in April of its intention to negotiate, triggering a six-month window to complete those talks, but it has yet to receive SAG’s counter-proposals.
During this week, the unions plan to ramp up their strategy of attacking major corporations which have shot non-union ads with specific focus on General Motors Corp. and AT&T. The unions picketed Friday at the massive GM assembly plant in the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck until the automaker threatened to sue over the entrance being blocked.
Strike captain Michael Brennan said GM reps issued the threat after several Teamster-drivers refused to cross the picket line for deliveries. After checking with union attorneys, strikers decided to return today.
“If GM won’t let us work on commercials, we’re not going to let them produce cars,” Brennan said.
GM rep Peg Holmes said the threat of legal action is a typical response to blocking the entrance to the plant. She also said Friday’s demonstration did not disrupt operations.
Nix to nuts
Union supporters in Detroit also demonstrated Saturday at the Woodward Dream Cruise event, which drew an estimated 1.5 million people, and gave out bags of peanuts with the slogan “Give us a break, we won’t work for peanuts.”
Activists in New York are also planning to demonstrate today at GM’s regional headquarters in Manhattan.
In Los Angeles, the unions plan to demonstrate today against AT&T outside Universal Studios today with cast members from “The West Wing” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” Over 150 high-profile celebrities have signed a letter to AT&T Chairman C. Michael Armstrong asking for the telecommunications giant to sign interim agreements, under which union actors are allowed to perform.
Signers include Kevin Bacon, Kirk Doulgas, Peter Fonda, former SAG prexy Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Ricardo Montalban, Lily Tomlin, Blair Underwood and Alfre Woodard.
The strike received coverage Friday on Regis Philbin’s talk show with Jerry Orbach making an appearance. Philbin recently shot a dot-com ad under an interim deal.