Striking up big help

'West Wing,' 'Malcolm' thesps join Visa ad picketing

Striking union actors used star power Monday, staging pickets with casts of “The West Wing” and “Malcolm in the Middle” to draw news media attention to the 16-week work stoppage against advertisers.

Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford and Dule Hill of “The West Wing” and Jane Kaczmarek, Justin Berfield and Bryan Cranston of “Malcolm” were among the 60 demonstrators at Universal Studios Hollywood for a lunch-break event. Noah Wyle of “ER” also joined the line.

The protest targeted taping of a non-union Visa spot on the lot and AT&T, which has been chosen as a nationwide corporate target by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. The actors released a letter, signed by more than 150 high-profile SAG and AFTRA members, to AT&T chief C. Michael Armstrong asking that the telecom giant sign an interim agreement with the unions.

“Advertising revenues were up 22% in the last year,” the letter said. “Is this the time to declare war on union actors and their families?”

The presence of the high-profile actors, still in costume and makeup, drew more than a dozen news organizations to the picket site.

“The actors did a very standup action for the union,” said strike captain Doug Traer. “To have that kind of support really energizes the membership.”

Comments edited

Two weeks ago, Janney made a statement of support for strikers when accepting the show’s Family Program award from the Assn. of National Advertisers. Exec producer John Wells subsequently returned the award after Janney’s comment was edited from the telecast (Daily Variety, Aug. 16).

SAG and AFTRA have also received additional support from a pair of high-profile actors: Brad Pitt, who recently taped a Rolex spot for the Japanese market after insisting on an interim agreement, and Orlando Jones, who has refused to tape new 7Up spots without an interim deal.

A 7Up spokeswoman said the brand will continue running Jones’ pre-strike “Make 7Up Yours” spots until after the strike is over rather than taping new ones. The soft-drink bottler began running nine spots for the campaign last November, and the ads continue to play well with audiences, the rep said.

SAG and AFTRA also picketed Monday for the second time at General Motors’ giant Hamtramck assembly plant in a Detroit suburb to protest GM’s taping of non-union ads.

About 30 demonstrators, joined by members of the Teamsters and the Intl. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, claimed to have turned away dozens of trucks from the plant.

“People who were in the plant told us that production had slowed to a snail’s pace,” said strike captain Gordon Drake, who traveled from Los Angeles to coordinate activities. “Not a single Teamster truck crossed our line, which sent a strong message to everyone else.”

No disruption

GM rep Peg Holmes insisted that the event created no disruption and had not forced the automaker to carry out a previous threat to sue pickets. “There was no need to do so,” she added.

Drake said leaders of the SAG and AFTRA offices in Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit have pledged to picket at least one GM facility on every weekday until the strike is over. Demonstrators plan to hit GM’s corporate headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit today.

Supporters in Los Angeles picketed Monday at a nonunion Sears shoot in the Toluca Lake area.

The strike, now in its 114th day, centers on advertisers’ demand for elimination of residuals for ads aired on TV networks. Actors are demanding cable residuals, a monitoring system and Internet jurisdiction.

Both sides have agreed with federal mediators to meet for possible resumption of bargaining Sept. 13 in New York. Negotiators last met July 21 but bargaining was unproductive as advertisers refused to budge from their insistence on eliminating residuals.

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