Now in the fifth month of a commercial strike, SAG's top talent is responding to a celebrity outreach program that was spearheaded a few weeks ago by actor Paul Newman.
Newman spoke to his fellow actors on Sept. 13 at a Sixth Avenue SAG strike rally before leading union members on a march from the advertising offices of BBD&O to those of General Motors.
At the Sept. 13 rally, celebrity actors gave numerous interviews, all promoting the union line. While the rhetoric was predictably pro-labor, there were some surprises, including a pledge by actor Tim Robbins that SAG celebrities are actually committed to civil disobedience during the strike, if necessary.
"Tomorrow we're going to Niketown and we're going to stand out in front of there and make noise," Robbins told Playbill On-Line. "There will be some famous faces there and we'll draw attention to Niketown and the fact that they are involved in crossing the picket line and employing non union actors. I don't think they want that publicity. "
Robbins said that on Friday, Sept. 15, SAG actors would be going to Coca-Cola to establish a presence there, again with "famous faces." The popular actor promised this was "just the beginning." "If these negotiations break down," Robbins added, "if the corporations don't put pressure on the ad agencies, they're in for a prolonged struggle. We're talking about people, celebrities, embarrassing corporations in one way or another. Now, whether it's getting arrested in front of their corporate headquarters, or whether it's talk or some other kind of creative thing that I'm not going to share with you, there are ways to do it. We have the resources and we have the will, and we have the resolve right now with this membership."
Asked if celebrities had committed to going so far as to engage in civil disobedience, Robbins said, "You bet."
The Sept. 13 SAG rally followed a similar, celebrity packed turnout at the Royale Theatre on Sept. 7. At both events, SAG's strategy included bringing high-profile members into play and leveraging their guaranteed press appeal into potentially embarrassing publicity situations for various corporations.
Meanwhile, at the World Trade Center in Manhattan, an hour before the uptown rally began, a few core negotiators quietly showed up at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to restart talks in the stalled negotiations between the actors unions, SAG and AFTRA, and the committee representing the producers of television commercials, the JPC.
SAG 's strike rally in front of the Paine Webber building on Sixth Avenue between 50 and 51 Streets drew a boisterous but orderly crowd that was estimated by the New York Police Department to include 450-500 protestors.
At the rally, actor Richard Dreyfuss spoke with Playbill On-Line and elaborated on the issue of SAG "unity" which he suggested was the union's biggest strength at the start of the strike on May 1. Dreyfuss also defined the union's take on its opposition.
"Well, so far there's been no change in the 'unity of the union,' at all," Dreyfuss said. "I mean, you have not heard of any actors breaking out and working against the union——nobody. Tiger Woods made a commercial? That's not about the union. Actors are still holding out, as well they should. The unity of this union is strong and unquestioned. The issue now is the other side.
"We have to focus on who these people really are and get them to the table in the real world, for real reasons," Dreyfuss said. "This is not about Madison Avenue, this is not about an amorphous agency or committee. This is about Ford and Coca-Cola and Chrysler and Visa and Amex. It's about real companies like Proctor and Gamble and it has to be said over and over again: They cannot walk away from real responsibility here and pretend they're just bystanders. They're not bystanders, they're setting this policy.
In short, commercial producers seek less frequent lump sum payments for actors' contributions to commercials rather than the pay for play royalty system that has been in place for years. Actors, who also seek increased cable royalties and recognition of Internet commercials in their contract, claim this would cut their incomes unfairly.
"Coca-Cola and McDonald's are wonderful American companies that are trying to kill these families' incomes," Dreyfuss said. "I think that the consequences, unintended perhaps, but real, of this behavior on the part of Coca-Cola and Proctor and Gamble and these other companies are truly damaging to children, [and] truly damaging to families. They are trying to remove 50 percent of their income——and not for people who make $20 millon a year, but people who make $40,000 bucks. They're trying to turn them into people who are on the edge of the poverty line, slipping [through] the middle class. Why? There's no reason for this.
"When they tell this country that they do this because they're hurting, that's a lie," Dreyfuss said. "And we know it's a lie. We know how good and strong the profits are in this country and in this industry. We know that. They say so in their ad industry magazine every day. And then, because they think we don't read, they turn around and say 'Well, we're not doing well, so we have to take back the salary.' This is patronizing, it's silly , it's contemptuous and it's infuriating. That can't go on."
Dreyfuss listed several companies from memory, Proctor and Gamble, Chrysler, Ford, Amex, Visa, Texaco, and made an offer: "Step up to the table," Dreyfuss said, "c'mon, let's negotiate. This isn't going to kill you. These negotiations aren't going to hurt your industry and you know it. What you really want is to position labor out of the important, vital center of a new defining industry, of a new defining world. Technology and Internet and all that other noise that people have been talking about; they're trying to place labor outside the pale, outside the circle, and that can't happen."
-- By Murdoch McBride