HOLLYWOOD — Two years after a bitter SAG/AFTRA actors strike against the ad industry, no discernible progress has been made on a sore point for actors — the creation of a system to monitor the thousands of commercials aired each day.
The delay stems from the inability of a joint union/industry standing committee to agree on selecting a company to track the airing of commercials. The unions’ settlement with advertisers in 2000 earmarked funds for that purpose, with those monies contractually set aside at the rate of about $1 million a year.
Reps for both sides have been tight-lipped about reasons for the delay. Ira Sheppard, chief negotiator for the industry’s Joint Policy Committee on Talent Union Relations, would only say, “We continue to have cordial, positive meetings with the unions.”
Current SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert raised the issue last fall in her campaign, accusing the administration of then-president William Daniels of doing “nothing” about actors being shortchanged for commercials.
Creation of a monitoring mechanism was a key demand in the six-month strike, along with improved cable payments and opposition to proposed flat-rate buyouts for TV network ads. SAG had announced in 1999 that a pilot study of 38 ads showed underpayments totaling more than $210,000.
Commercial work lags
Commercial work for union actors has lagged in recent years due to the twin impacts of the strike and runaway production. SAG’s 1999 earnings totaled $630 million, then fell to $532 million in 2000 and $563 million last year, with residuals representing between 50% and 60% of those earnings.
AFTRA does not report earnings but the ad work is believed to be only a small fraction of SAG’s.
The 2000 SAG/AFTRA contract contains a pair of key provisions on monitoring: that both sides meet and report on possible commercial identification approaches within six months and that the industry contribute 0.15% of the contract’s value to the Industry Advancement & Cooperative Fund for possible use on monitoring.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) requested in 2000 that the U.S. Dept. of Justice investigate underpayments after learning of the SAG study. Justice subsequently referred the matter to the Federal Trade Commission, which has not disclosed if it has launched a probe.