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Actors Will Seek Early Advertiser Talks to Avoid Strike Repeat

Actors Will Seek Early Advertiser Talks to Avoid Strike Repeat


Staff Reporter

Determined to avoid a repeat of a six-month strike that cost millions in dollars in lost wages and reaped only minimal contract gains, the Screen Actors Guild will push for new negotiations with the advertising industry next month, 10 months before the current pact expires.

Although no formal overtures have been made, both the actors’ union and the Association of National Advertisers said they plan to talk shortly after the new year to set a timetable for bargaining on a new three-year contract. The current deal runs out Oct. 31, 2003.

“It’s in everybody’s interest to sit down and begin to explore the issues as soon as we can,” said A. Robert Pisano, SAG’s national executive director. SAG negotiates with the ANA jointly with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. “The earlier we sit down, the earlier we can figure out if we have a problem.”

Problems abounded in the last round of negotiations between actors and the advertising industry and the result was a bitter strike that ran from the spring to the fall of 2000. Actors won a marginally higher wage for commercial work as a result of that strike, but failed to get a so-called “pay-for-play” formula they sought that would have compensated them for each airing of a commercial on cable television rather than a flat rate.

This time around, both sides are making nice, at least for now.

“A strike is in nobody’s best interest. I applaud any attempt by the union to stabilize industry relations,” said Ira Shepard, counsel to the Joint Policy Committee, the negotiating arm of the ANA. “I think we heard different messages (before negotiations) three years ago that weren’t so healthy.”

Neither Pisano nor Shepard would discuss what’s likely to top their agendas when the two sides get together, although it’s practically a given that SAG will seek a higher day rate for commercial actors as well as revisiting pay-for-play.

But some said the slumping national economy, the loss of productions to Canada and other foreign locales and the possibility of war with Iraq will give SAG and AFTRA even less leverage than during the last collective bargaining session.

Strike residue

When the strike hit, two-and-a-half years ago, on-location television commercial production in Los Angeles was at a near 10-year high, according to the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., which issues film permits in Los Angeles County. Since then, however, commercial production in the region has waned, a circumstance many attribute to lasting damage from the work stoppage.

Permits were issued for 6,569 shooting days on commercials in 1999, the last full year before the strike, compared with 4,950 days in 2000 and 5,580 days in 2001, the first post-strike year.

Commercial location shoots were on pace to reach 5,620 days this year, but November recorded the lowest total of the year. (The EIDC counts shooting days as a permit issued for a particular project on a specific date).

“It’s been an extremely difficult year,” said Steve Caplan, senior vice president for the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, many of whose members also belong to the ANA.

Feeling the pain along with actors in the 2000 strike were scores of small businesses such as set designers, prop houses and post-production studios. This September, two Los Angeles talent agencies, DDK Talent Representatives and Abrams-Rubaloff & Lawrence, shut down their commercial talent businesses. Both attributed their problems to the actors’ strike.

“It really hurt local businesses quite a bit,” said Christopher Ursitti, co-owner of Los Angeles Center Studios. “The industry has never really recovered from the strike.”

Pisano objected to that view, saying that a combination of factors, including the terrorist attacks and a persistent advertising slump that only recently shows signs of easing, are to blame for the drop-off in local commercial production.

“I don’t think it’s productive to ascribe a cause to a particular factor,” Pisano said, adding that he was optimistic that an early deal could be reached, perhaps months before the current contract expires.

In the past, the advertising agencies have not started early bargaining sessions, but they might be inclined to this year if they feel a deal is in reach, Shepard said.

Mathis Dunn, AFTRA’s assistant national executive director, agreed that an early start was prudent. “It gives both sides more time to explore the issues,” Dunn said. “The good news is we are all taking about trying to reach like minds as soon as possible.”

Just last month, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees agreed to a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers months before that pact was due to expire.

Danny Butch, owner of Zeitgeist, a small Los Angeles-based prop rental service hurt by the last strike, hopes actors and advertisers will do the same. “They need to get together early and do the best job they can to avoid a strike or a slowdown,” he said.

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