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Forget about early negotiations for a new ad contract for thesps.

Despite entreaties from Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artist leaders for earlier talks to avoid down-to-the-wire bargaining, the ad industry has not budged from its insistence negotiations won’t start until after Labor Day. Talks will start in September, but no date has been set, ad industry chief negotiator Ira Shepard told Daily Variety.

The current contract, hammered out three years ago after a six-month strike, will expire Oct. 29. So talks could extend past the expiration, although the unions have made no moves to prepare membership for any kind of work stoppage — a sharp contrast with the aggressive campaign of rallies and meetings staged during late 1999 and early 2000.

Shepard said no date has been established for exchanging proposals. SAG and AFTRA had no comment, but guild insiders said both sides continue to talk about setting a date.

Champing at the bit

AFTRA announced last spring a tentative schedule that gave Sept. 3 as the start date for talks, but SAG leaders said subsequently they wanted to go as soon as the SAG-AFTRA merger vote was completed at the end of June.

In mid-July, the national boards of SAG and AFTRA OK’d a modest three-tiered proposal package, incentivized for the ad industry to begin negotiations as soon as possible. No details were disclosed by the unions, but those in attendance said the proposal sought an annual increase of more than 4% in “Class A” base rates for ads on major networks; a slightly lower annual increase in cable buyout rates; a hike in the current 13.3% contribution by producers to the unions’ pension and health plans; and a hike in Internet base rates.

Joint negotiations

SAG and AFTRA jointly negotiate the ad and TV-film pacts, with SAG members generating about 90% of revenues on the ad pact, and AFTRA’s slice coming from radio work.

The tactics used during the 2000 strike remain a source of bitter debate within the unions. Many current elected leaders have argued the strike was unnecessarily lengthy, due to overly aggressive positions such as demanding pay-per-play cable residuals. But opponents have argued that advertisers forced the strike with strident bargaining positions such as calling for elimination of “Class A” network residuals.

The final deal included retention of network residuals; setting aside $1 million annually to develop a monitoring system; fees of $1,500 a year for Internet ads; and hikes in the quarterly cable buyout rates to $1,390 in the first year, $1,706 in the second and $2,460 in the third. Despite a 1999 SAG study asserting 18 of 30 commercials had shortchanged actors by $388,000, a workable monitoring system has not been developed.

In addition to staging the longest strike in Hollywood history in 2000, the performers’ union took the film-TV negotiations three days past expiration in 2001.

(Claude Brodesser contributed to this report.)