In a joint statement issued after a break in talks between striking actors and commercial producers, Ira Shepard and John McGuinn of the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) and Daniel Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) released their first report on where negotiations stood when both sides parted, Sept. 27. In summary, the commercial producers claim that after 12 days of negotiations, "an agreement could not be reached in the five-month old SAG/AFTRA commercial actors strike. Among the reasons cited by the producers were:
• The actors were reported to have declined a ninety-day cooling-off period proposed by the Federal mediators.
• The producers had suggested that "negotiations would continue and any negotiated settlement would be retroactive to the beginning of the cooling-off-period."
JPC chief negotiator John McGuinn said he was deeply disappointed in the break off, saying, "The unions have rejected these proposals and in response have demanded increases that are totally unrealistic and out of line with previous contracts or what other unions have demanded or received."
McGuinn's colleague, JPC lead counsel Ira Shepard, echoed his personal theme for the negotiations saying, "Until the unions moderate their unrealistic goals, there cannot be a resolution of this strike. Commercial production has continued at high levels throughout the strike. The industry intends to continue commercial production until an equitable resolution of this strike can be reached." According to a prepared JPC statement, "The Joint Policy Committee presented the unions with a three-year comprehensive contract package that provides over $2.34 billion in wages and benefits over the life of the contract." Included in the JPC's package were:
• Cable increases tiered to climb to 85 percent in the third year of the contract;
• A 50 percent increase in the basic rate paid for a TV or radio commercial moved to the Internet;
• A 6.1 percent increase in extra performer rates;
• a 4.45 percent increase in session fees paid to principal performers;
• An increase to 13.15 percent of all session and residual payments to pension and health, and other significant increases.
• The JPC also removed proposals that the unions had characterized as 'roll-backs,' agreeing to accept pay-per-play on Class A networks at 1997 rates.
Also claiming that certain projections made by SAG and AFTRA were "illusory or nonexistent," the JPC said that "talks eventually broke down over two key issues: the actors' demand for jurisdiction over commercials made exclusively for the Internet and the rate of payment for commercials on cable."
SAG and AFTRA have said they have three issues at stake with the contract talks: 1) maintaining their existing residual scheme for traditional/network commercials (SAG's so-called Title A); 2) raising cable residual rates for commercials from the "industry start-up" level actors agreed to in cable's infancy; and 3) recognition of the union's right to bargain for internet residual rates.
Based on their experience with cable, where actors say they bought into two decades of low residuals by compromising on rates before the value of cable was established, it seems that SAG and AFTRA are determined not to repeat that mistake with the evolving Internet.
On the corporate side, commercial producers have brought volumes of information and conviction to the table concerning the need to modernize systems in today's business world, but issues like the Internet remain nettlesome.
"The JPC recognizes the importance of the Internet going forward, but unanimously agreed that given the early stages of broadband in the medium, more information is essential," said JPC's John McGuinn. The JPC says it "proposed the formation of a joint committee, with industry and union members, to analyze and observe the use of commercials made for the Web for a period of the contract," with certain additional residuals for "move overs," which are "commercials made originally for television then used on the Internet."
-- By Murdoch McBride