The union instructed its 160,000 members Thursday to not accept any work for BBH, which has been signed to SAG-AFTRA’s commercials contracts since 1999. The strike came two weeks after BBH publicly announced that it had withdrawn from the contract, asserting that the agreement is outdated and accusing the union of being inflexible.
“The integrity of good business is based upon parties adhering to their mutual contracts,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “BBH’s decision to abandon their commitment and responsibilities to our collective bargaining agreement by shooting non-union is not only unethical, it undermines a working actor’s right to fair wages, health care and on-set safety. These actions are unacceptable, and we will take a stand. Strength in unity.”
BBH is owned by Publicis Groupe, a multinational communications and marketing company that owns several ad agencies including SAG-AFTRA signatories Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett. SAG-AFTRA said Thursday that members can work for other signatory Publicis Groupe ad agencies.
“There is nothing more sacred to our members than our collective bargaining agreements,” said SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White. “They ensure fair pay and protections that enable performers to make a living wage and care for their families. BBH is now attempting to walk out on our agreement and ignore their obligations. This strike will deny BBH access to our talented actors who perform in commercials. We ask that members stand together and refuse all work for this company.”
SAG-AFTRA notified its 160,000 members last month that BBH was disputing its status as a signatory and that members must work under a SAG-AFTRA agreement. The agency has produced commercials for Audi, Absolut, Ikea, Samsung, and Virgin Media.
The agency issued a statement in response: “We do not expect the strike to have any noticeable impact on our company or any ongoing client work, especially as we have been a non-signatory to the SAG-AFTRA contract since November 2017. BBH remains focused on delivering high quality and innovative work to our clients. We also continue to value highly the creative talent we work with and remain committed to fair wages and working conditions.”
BHH, a subsidiary of Publicis Groupe, said in a message two weeks ago on its website that its withdrawal is the union’s fault.
“We immensely value the creative talent we work with, and this decision does not change our commitment to fair wages and working conditions,” the agency said. “We simply need the flexibility that this current contract does not allow in order to continue to do great work with great actors, both SAG-AFTRA and non-SAG-AFTRA talent alike. It is unfortunate that the current SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract has placed signatory agencies at a competitive disadvantage.”
White and Carteris responded on Sept. 6 by asserting that the union introduced a low-budget digital waiver last year that’s aimed at helping ad agencies compete with digital agencies: “These and other changes allow significant flexibility in the creation of social media and digital ads. The industry loves them. These changes have helped top agencies successfully adapt to an evolving ad industry.”
The strike comes with SAG-AFTRA having launched its official process to hammer out a contract proposal for its upcoming negotiations on the commercials contract, which represents over $1 billion in annual earnings for union members, by holding a series of “wages and working conditions” meetings for members. SAG-AFTRA’s current deal with the Joint Policy Committee, which represents advertisers and advertising agencies, expires on March 31. The two sides have not yet set a date for starting negotiations.
Union leaders asserted in 2016 during the ratification campaign that the successor deal for commercials included “more than $200 million” in pay hikes for members with a 7% hike in minimum wage rates and a 1.2% increase in employer contributions to health and retirements funds.