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SAG-AFTRA, Ad Industry Agree on Waiver for Low-Budget Digital Commercials

SAG-AFTRA and the advertising industry have reached an agreement aimed at allowing union members to work on digital low-budget commercial productions.

The Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Union Relations and SAG-AFTRA made the announcement Thursday. They agreed on a waiver to the current contract that applies only to productions with budgets of $50,000 and under — an area that’s currently mostly handled outside SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction.

The union and industry reached a three-year deal on a new master contract in April, 2016. SAG-AFTRA represents about 160,000 members and face discipline if they perform non-union work.

“After listening to the concerns of our signatories and with the JPC’s member needs in mind, both organizations have decided to offer a waiver for commercial digital low budget productions,” the two organizations said. “While a waiver of this scope is rare, the union and the JPC felt it necessary to create this waiver mid-contract to offer relief to ad agencies that are losing clients to non-signatory ad agencies on digital work. Our hope is that they will now be able to retain this work and maintain those highly creative and productive relationships with advertisers.”

The statement also said that non-union work in the area of digital (internet and new media) commercials has grown over the years.

“While the rates under this waiver are negotiable, it will secure more work for our members and provide contributions towards health and pension benefits,” it noted. “This waiver applies solely to new low budget digital commercial productions with budgets of $50,000 and under. Any digital commercial with a budget over $50,000 is still covered by the existing terms and conditions of the Commercials Contract and paid at not less than the minimums set under the Internet or New Media provisions.”

SAG-AFTRA battled with the ad industry in 2015 over the issue of its members performing non-union work through its Commercials Organizing and Recapture Initiative. SAG-AFTRA asserted it had caught 40 non-union commercials being produced by advertisers already signed to the commercials contracts — and turned all of those into union commercials.

The 2015 campaign never mentioned the bitter six-month commercials strike in 2000, during which SAG and AFTRA staged hundreds of protests and launched a boycott against Tide and Ivory Soap. In the aftermath, it banned 75 thesps for periods ranging from six months to five years and fined Elizabeth Hurley and Tiger Woods $100,000 each for performing in non-union spots during the strike.

The strike became a major issue in subsequent election campaigns, with moderates contending it was unnecessary while activists argued that advertisers’ hard-line stance left SAG with no other option. Linda Howard, the widow of Ken Howard, resurrected the issue up in this summer’s election campaign.

(SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White is pictured above)

Correction: The previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the agreement would allow union members to work on non-union productions.

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