Reps for the union said the noon event on Wednesday drew sign-ups from nearly 1,000 members and supporters at national headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard, followed by a two-block march to a stage next to the tar pits and a 45-minute rally.
SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris led the rally, concluding with chants of “We want a contract and we want it now!”
Carteris opened the rally by noting that BBH had abandoned a union contract that it had been signatory to for nearly two decades, which has led to a four-month strike.
“Your presence here today makes a statement: that we won’t have our livelihoods sacrificed for corporate profits,” she said. “We refuse to accept anything less than being paid fairly for the work we do.”
The event included speeches from actor Patrick Fabian, SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White, and leaders from the Teamsters, American Federation of Musicians, and the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
The union instructed its 160,000 members on Sept. 20 not to accept any work for BBH, which had 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 The strike came two weeks after BBH publicly announced that it had withdrawn from the contract, asserting that the agreement is outdated and accusing the union of being inflexible.
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. The agency has produced commercials for Audi, Absolut, Ikea, Samsung, and Virgin Media.
SAG-AFTRA has been ramping up activity on the commercials front, where it faces the challenge of advertisers using non-union actors. It’s held two dozen demonstrations and has brought on Bryan Cranston in a video backing its “Ads Go Union” campaign to persuade advertisers to stop using non-union actors.
SAG-AFTRA is prepping for a successor deal on its commercials contract, which represents over $1 billion in annual earnings for union members. SAG-AFTRA’s current deal with the Joint Policy Committee, which represents advertisers and advertising agencies, expires on March 31. The two sides will begin meeting in New York next month.
Carteris told Variety after the event, “People are paying attention to this issue. We’re seeing a lot of support from other unions in the industry and outside of our industry because people realize that we’re stronger together. I think we’re seeing a major shift in this country.”
White said SAG-AFTRA has complained to the National Labor Relations Board about alleged unfair labor practices by BBH.
“The labor movement is reinvigorated in 2019,” he told the rally. “The struggle that we have engaged in for the last century is just as real now as it was when unions first began organizing.”