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SAG reaching out

Unions willing to loosen interim pact rules

Striking union actors, reaching out to advertisers who may be willing to compromise as the Olympics and 2001 model car season approach, will offer less expensive interim agreements for commercials in the hope of attracting signers.

The negotiating committee for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists has cleared the move, under which advertisers can sign pacts with lower cable residual payments than have been offered previously.

Negotiators for advertisers have flatly rejected any cable residuals payments to actors, preferring to continue current system of upfront buyouts. The ad industry negotiators have not changed their bargaining positions since mid-April, and they have urged advertisers not to sign interim deals.

Previous interim pacts, of which over 1,800 have been signed, were structured based on the unions’ mid-April proposal or their modification in mid-July, when they reduced residual rates for smaller cable systems. The new strategy, designed to attract signers at a time when advertisers need more new spots than usual, could boost the unions’ bargaining clout at the Sept. 13 resumption of negotiations.

Rain dance

In an aggressive move against a key corporate target, SAG and AFTRA members picketed in the rain Thursday at General Motors’ corporate headquarters in Detroit, turning away 31 trucks and persuading 90 union members to honor the picket line.

The unions, which have been on strike against advertisers since May 1, plan to hit GM’s massive Hamtramck assembly plant today in order to pressure the automaker to stop shooting non-union ads. Organizers are hoping that members of other unions will refuse to cross the picket line.

“We’re going to give them a taste of their own medicine,” strike captain Michael Brennan said. “If we can’t make commercials, then they shouldn’t be able to make cars.”

During Thursday’s picket, which began at 6 a.m., members of the Teamsters, Operating Engineers and Intl. Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers either refused to enter the Renaissance Center facility or left it upon seeing the two dozen picketers. “People who came out of the plant told us that the building was abuzz with talk about our line,” Brennan said.

New strategies

The strategy of using multi-union efforts has emerged from recent meetings SAG and AFTRA leaders held with AFL-CIO executives aimed at improving the effectiveness of strike actions. GM has drawn the anger of the unions during the strike because it has continued to order non-union spots, including a recent Tiger Woods commercial for Buick, rather than signing an interim agreement with SAG and AFTRA.

About 100 activists picketed at GM’s regional headquarters in Manhattan on Thursday, with participants wearing black tape over their mouths to symbolize what the unions believe is a lack of coverage by the news media. Chicago members distributed leaflets at a convention of GM dealers at the Navy Pier area.

Union members in Denver plan to picket at a Cadillac dealership today.

John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the advertisers, said the protests against GM would have no impact on the next round of bargaining. “Obviously, we don’t like it, but obviously we have been through enough labor disputes so that we expect these kinds of actions,” he added.

Operating normally

GM said the Detroit protest did not disrupt operations. Its reps have maintained that the automaker has postponed many of its planned shoots and has only scheduled spots if they were necessary in order to stay competitive with rivals.

The strike centers on advertisers’ demands for a revamp of network ad payments through upfront buyouts while actors are demanding cable residuals, monitoring and Internet jurisdiction.

In Los Angeles, activists leafletted Thursday at a DaimlerChrysler-sponsored reception for Democratic Convention delegates at the Peterson Automotive Museum and staged a candlelight vigil outside the Shrine Auditorium at Barbra Streisand’s evening concert.

Paul Newman announced Thursday he had formed a committee of celebrities to assist in getting the unions’ message to the public. Union officials have also announced that they have elicited pledges of support from baseball star Sammy Sosa and skateboard star Tony Hawk, who recently shot an Activision spot under an interim agreement.

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