Negotiators for the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have pulled the plug on launching a campaign to seek outside support for contract goals from beyond their 135,000 members.

“We’re focused on communicating with our members during negotiations as part of ongoing education efforts,” SAG spokesman Greg Krizman said. “That’s where our strength is.”

The decision comes amid optimism the unions will not strike following their June 30 contract expiration, with that sentiment fueled by the Writers Guild’s tentative deal two weeks ago. Bargaining began Tuesday and talks resume Friday.

The decision to shelve plans for an “external” contract campaign means the unions will still use an “internal” one. So far, that consists of issuing recaps about contract issues and scheduling “town hall” meetings Saturday in Los Angeles and June 3 at the Crowne Plaza in Gotham.

“External” campaign plans could have included appearing at shareholder meetings of AMPTP companies, seeking endorsements from political figures and holding joint events with other unions. In a telling sign, no pickets showed up at the opening of negotiations Tuesday.

“We considered a variety of different scenarios as part of basic preparation for a contract campaign, but how they are used was up to the negotiating committee,” Krizman said.

Low-key approach

SAG’s national board, which had earmarked funds for a contract campaign, voted in early April to give control over contract strategy to the negotiating committee. The subsequent decision by SAG/AFTRA reps to limit the contract campaign reflects the low-key approach taken by lead negotiators Brian Walton for SAG and Stephen Burrow for AFTRA.

Activists within the unions had been pressing leaders earlier this year to follow through on the momentum from last year’s six-month strike against advertisers. That initiative has been blunted amid a climate that saw Hollywood ramp up production to ride out a strike despite repeated declarations by SAG prexy William Daniels that the actors did not want to walk out.

Key external efforts during the ad strike included support from the powerful American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations; dozens of demonstrations in which Teamsters blocked access to non-union shoots; protests at AT&T and Procter & Gamble shareholders meetings plus hundreds of other demonstrations; a boycott of P&G’s Tide, Crest and Ivory soap; and endorsements from NAACP prexy Kwasi Mfume and IATSE prexy Thomas Short.

‘Nothing in stone’

Krizman said the unions could take similar actions this year should the current contract talks fail. “Nothing is written in stone,” he added.

The decision to ditch an external contract campaign comes three months after the AFL-CIO and other unions pledged to support the WGA, SAG and AFTRA in contract battles and possible strikes.

The promise came in a meeting chaired by AFL-CIO prexy John Sweeney and secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka with four dozen union execs attending, including reps of the Teamsters, IATSE, the American Federation of Musicians, the Communications Workers of America, the Hotel & Restaurant Employees and the Service Employees Intl. Union.