SAG–AFTRA Poised to Strike



If commercial actors do decide to hit the picket lines as they were threatening last week, experts say the economic loss to Los Angeles could be as much as $3.5 million a week.

And though it’s not uncommon for Hollywood unions to threaten strikes as a negotiating tactic, analysts and observers say this time, the actors are serious. Most observers believe any strike would be a long one.

Talks have broken off between commercial producers and the two unions representing commercial actors the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. SAG and AFTRA have set a May 1 deadline for an agreement, after which commercial actors would go on strike; the negotiations don’t affect film and TV actors.

“Based on what we have heard and the actions being taken, we think there is a 99.9 percent chance of a strike,” said Matt Miller, president of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers.

Other experts agreed with that assessment.

“I think it is 100 percent,” said Cody Cluff, president of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., which handles permits for production in Los Angeles. “The recent election of SAG President William Daniels and his slate was based on a hard-line approach to the negotiations, and they have taken one. They haven’t left any room for compromise.”

Though general filming in Los Angeles has been flat in recent years because of runaway production, commercial filming has grown sharply. During the first quarter of this year there were 2,160 commercial filming days in L.A. County, according to Cluff, up from 1,963 during the like quarter last year. Cluff estimates that a week of commercial filming pumps about $3.5 million into the local economy.

Commercial producers are responding to the threat by rushing into production in the final week before the proposed strike.

Mike Davison, director of broadcast production at Los Angeles-based Suissa Miller Advertising, said his agency will likely seek non-union actors in the event of a strike, and might film commercials overseas in places like South Africa.

SAG and AFTRA together represent about 135,000 actors. In negotiations with the ad industry, Daniels, who was elected on a get-tough platform, is also setting the stage for a hard-line stance in the upcoming contract talks between the actors and the TV and film industry. That contract expires in July 2002.

The key issues in the negotiations are residuals for cable and television commercials, a monitoring system for commercials so actors wouldn’t lose any fees for their work, and guidelines for commercials on the Internet.

If there is a strike, observers say, the unions would have a very tough time shutting down L.A.’s commercial production industry. In the earliest stages of a strike, most advertisers are expected to extend the life of their current slate of commercials, and then begin creating new ones with non-union actors if the strike progresses.

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