SAG/AFTRA and Ad Interests Testify Before City Council

News   SAG/AFTRA and Ad Interests Testify Before City Council After providing compelling testimony on Oct. 13, striking actors hope that city politicians will eventually move to prohibit the use of city property and other public resources for non-union commercial shoots during the remainder of the commercial strike by actors. Other cities, including Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Chicago have considered similar resolutions and, while the plans didn't stop commercial production or change the direction of the strike, the legislative process surrounding their proposal has offered unique insights to both sides of the labor dispute.

After providing compelling testimony on Oct. 13, striking actors hope that city politicians will eventually move to prohibit the use of city property and other public resources for non-union commercial shoots during the remainder of the commercial strike by actors. Other cities, including Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Chicago have considered similar resolutions and, while the plans didn't stop commercial production or change the direction of the strike, the legislative process surrounding their proposal has offered unique insights to both sides of the labor dispute.

The problem New York area actors seek to address is outlined in Resolution 1460, which calls for a limit on the use of city resources to aid producers of commercials at the unions' disadvantage.

Motivated by the desire to protect their business franchises with their clients and to stay afloat with their staffs intact during the actors' strike, commercial producers have continued to do shoots, often using strikebreakers in front of the camera. This has gone on throughout the 165-day strike.

The commercial advertising interests' negotiating body and front group, the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) recently released statistics indicating that "1,948 new commercials were produced in September, 2000 compared to 2,684 in September, 1999, a non-strike year." The advertising interests intend this as a blow to counter union momentum in disrupting commercial production, but it also shows that non-union work is getting done, and in some cases, actors say, with support from the city.

While elected members of the NY City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor said they were being careful to stay out of the collective bargaining process, which is the law, members of the committee, including two of Resolution 1460's co-sponsors, seemed dedicated to supporting the union's position. On the other side, AICP's Matthew Miller made his group's familiar argument that the commercial strike is not AICP's fight. The umbrella group spokesperson for independent producers stressed that his organization's members hire everyone but actors and then lobbied the council to adopt a more business friendly approach saying that to prohibit non-union work would push production away from New York. Miller concluded his testimony by warning the council members that they should be careful about telling people that they cannot produce commercials in New York City because "they might listen." Research indicates that Miller has advised the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) on labor issues for several years.

The issue of non-union production is real. It reflects on the effectiveness of the actors' strike and the advertisers' ability to stay in business. Lead counsel and negotiator for the JPC, Ira Shepard recently said that "when our estimates of unreported production of new commercials made in Canada and abroad are factored in, it is clear that the industry is producing new commercials at virtually the same rate as in non-strike years."

Actors are seeking to prohibit the use of city property for such shoots and to demand that the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting provides daily updates on shoots in New York City so that the union has the information necessary to form picket lines and track non-union work.

Actors like Tony Roberts, Michelle Hurd, Kim Sykes, Dan Lauria and Bebe Neuwirth were on hand at City Hall on Oct. 13 and, in some cases, they testified about the need for a "level playing field" whereby the city's powerful film and television office would act less as an enabling agent for producers, and perhaps provide strategic information to actors about ongoing non-union productions.

Representing the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), several dozen actors filled all but about 10 of the available seats in the City Council chamber at New York City Hall on Oct. 13 to watch selected members of the actors' union and their respective staffs testify on the resolution.

The actors' opponents in the debate, representing the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), the ANA and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (Four A's) only occupied 5-10 seats at City Hall but they spoke passionately before what could only be described as a "tough room."

The advertising interests were represented by at least six people including an independent producer, a member of the AICP and a Four A's spokesperson, Kathleen Quinn, who also identified herself as a staff representative of the JPC. The JPC has closely guarded the identity of its membership, which comprises both ANA and Four A's members and is apparently led by co-chairs from either side. Playbill On-Line was provided with a list of the Four A's members who comprise that association's "half" of the 27-member JPC. Although there were unconfirmed reports of safety issues connected with e-mail received by certain JPC members, it was impossible to get any comment or clarification on the list other than Quinn's confirmation that she was the committee's staff representative.

When asked, JPC's Ira Shepard said that at least one police investigation was underway in connection with a JPC member being threatened during the commercial strike.

While the individual names of employees are not being released in the interest of safety, especially because many of its members are women, Playbill On-Line has learned that, in addition to Kathleen Quinn of the Four A's, the agency members of the JPC include individual representatives from Grey Worldwide in New York City, J. Brown/LMC Group in Chicago, Jordan McGrath Case & Partners Euro RSCG, The Lord Group in New York City, Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, Inc. in New York City, Leo Burnett Co. in Chicago, McCann Erickson Worldwide, Inc. in New York City, BBDO in Chicago, Bozell in Omaha, DDB Worldwide, Inc. in New York City and D'Arcy in New York City.

In addition to the above list of advertising agencies, Playbill On-Line has learned that Proctor and Gamble, one of the nation's largest advertisers, does in fact play a leading role on the JPC from the ANA side and that a Proctor and Gamble executive serves as ANA's co-chair.

In less than a week, federally mediated talks will resume in New York City at the Millennium Hotel on W. 44 St. between SAG, AFTRA and the negotiating members of the ANA and Four A's.

-- By Murdoch McBride