Seeking to protect and enhance the existing system of daily fees and residual payments for actors who work in commercials, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) have gone on strike effective May 1. The strike kicked off May 1 at a noon rally in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.
Actors from the these two unions will not accept work in commercials for television, radio and Internet advertisers.
"This is definitely a strike," a SAG source told Playbill On-Line.
A SAG spokesperson said that several actors were expected to attend the rally, including Richard Dreyfuss, Jerry Orbach, Tony Roberts and Polly Bergen.
This is the first actors strike in 12 years; commercial work is prohibited, but film and television work continues. Actors are paid scale or negotiated fees for performing in commercials, but they also participate in a residual payment plan that redounds to their benefit. Commercial work, including such things as "voice overs," can be quite lucrative.
Advertisers and their clients are the deep pocket in this payment system, and they have fought to reduce their expenses by negotiating for one-time, up front fees to cover the unlimited use of a commercial for a certain period of time.
The advent of the Internet has turned the current actor/advertiser negotiations into something of a crucible because the fees being negotiated are seen as an important precedent in this new medium.
As reported earlier, the actors in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) can expect the "full support" of actors in the theatre community.
Actors' Equity, which represents 40,000 actors and stage managers, will support its sister unions in commercial strike and has already instructed its membership "not to accept work in commercials."
"They can't do commercials," Equity executive Alan Eisenberg told Playbill On-Line, "and that means they can't make Broadway commercials, which is what it means for the theatre industry."
Eisenberg and Equity president and actor Ron Silver wrote to SAG indicating their full support in the labor dispute, which has been hard fought. The Equity letter indicated that the union "has been monitoring the SAG/AFTRA TV and Radio Commercials negotiations and we have come to understand how intransigent the employers have been....in the bargaining process." The letter added that the refusal by agencies and producers to consider the actors' major proposals while demanding cutbacks came "dangerously close to, and perhaps falls over into bad faith bargaining."
There is a significant membership crossover factor -— an estimated 60 percent of Equity's members also belong to SAG, AFTRA or both.
Eisenberg characterized Equity's letter as "a strong statement," but added that "it's part of our obligation."
Eisenberg explained that as members of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America, which is the umbrella organization for these unions, "We have all agreed to cooperate so that members of one union will not break the strike of another one."
"It's been a long time since we have had a strike," Eisenberg said, "but it's not uncommon for a union to ask for assistance. That's very common."
According to Equity's instructions, members of the theatrical union will honor picket lines and will not perform in or audition for work in commercials should a SAG/AFTRA strike be called.
-- By Murdoch McBride