After SAG Talks Collapse, Joint Policy Committee Outlines Its Constituency

News   After SAG Talks Collapse, Joint Policy Committee Outlines Its Constituency
I will come back to you with an answer," said a spokesperson for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). The question was simple: "Which member groups of the ANA comprise the Joint Policy Committee (JPC)?" ——the group that is negotiating with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) for a new commercial contract.

I will come back to you with an answer," said a spokesperson for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). The question was simple: "Which member groups of the ANA comprise the Joint Policy Committee (JPC)?" ——the group that is negotiating with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) for a new commercial contract.

Federally mediated talks collapsed last week after both sides rejected proposals and could not agree on union jurisdiction over commercials broadcast on the Internet.

While that ANA spokesperson did not actually get back with an answer, another senior spokesperson at the ANA, executive vice president Daniel Jaffe later did. Jaffe told Playbill On-Line that, "The JPC is made up of 27 members. They are comprised of [sic] major national advertisers and agencies, and each of the people on the JPC represents companies or agencies with some knowledge of the types of issues that are involved in the SAG/AFTRA negotiations."

Jaffe said the JPC was also representing a much larger group who are signatory. "That means they have agreed to allow the JPC to represent them in the same sense that SAG and AFTRA represents members of the union," Jaffe said. "This is a representative group that provides the advertisers' and agencies' point of view in the negotiations just as the unions provide [their members'] outlook."

Jaffe said the JPC essentially comprises member organizations of the two advertising community trade groups, the Four A's and the ANA. "It's a split of advertisers and agencies," Jaffe said, "representing a much larger group who are signatories." Playbill On-Line informed JPC lead negotiator Ira Shepard that it was actively seeking to identify the member organizations of the ANA's Joint Policy Committee in an effort to better understand the organization and its make up.

After suggesting to Shepard that a better understanding of SAG and AFTRA was facilitated by having access to such prominent members as Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Richard Dreyfuss and others, the JPC's lead negotiator bristled with that aspect of SAG's image strategy.

"It's absurd for actors like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins and Richard Dreyfuss to be considered anything other than spokespersons," Shepard said, "because they are not knowledgeable and they do not get involved. They are completely uninformed as to the basic issues. They just see a liberal cause and they support that and they do it blindly, with little thought to the actual ramifications. They're not professional negotiators and they're not economists. [Their involvement] is purely a public relations ploy used by the union to draw attention to it. And, it's mostly failing because they're not actual commercial actors—with the exception of Dreyfuss, who does some voiceovers—and that makes it a difficult sell for the [union].

Shepard cited a contradiction with celebrity actors—whom he described as "millionaires"—advocating for the union rank and file, saying that the size of SAG's [non-working] membership was the big factor in creating the highly publicized disparity between the union's minority top-earning bracket and the lower income bracket of its rank and file.

"The fact that there are poor members of SAG is not a reflection on our contract," Shepard explained. "The poor are not working under contract."

As an abstract point of launch, Playbill On-Line shared a theory with Shepard involving the probability of major advertiser Proctor and Gamble's (P&G) likely involvement with the JPC. The theory assumes that P&G plays a leadership role in the ANA's JPC by virtue of its size and prominence in both the marketplace as well as in the advertisers' trade association(s).

"I can't confirm your theory as to negotiating strategy," Shepard said, "we're just trying to negotiate a fair contract for the industry."

The push to identify the JPC is an attempt to understand it. Clearly, the group's identity is shielded, which Shepard justifies by explaining that hundreds of pornographic and sometimes threatening messages have been sent to certain JPC negotiators once they were identified. Shepard feels that identifying JPC members opens them to more of this "direct communication." These issues notwithstanding, legitimate attempts to learn about the group continue.

If the identity of the JPC is not made easily available, it stands to reason that something might be learned about the group by profiling its most likely members, such as P&G.

While a call to P&G's corporate office in Ohio was not returned by press time, it is reported that P&G never accepts a two-digit (above nine percent) increase in any cost, at any time in negotiations. This rule is said to be integral to P&G's steadfast corporate policy, and is the sort of defining characteristic that could be considered essential to understanding the JPC, assuming P&G is a member and that the one-digit policy can be accurately ascribed to it.

Whether the company belongs to the JPC or not, Playbill On-Line has learned that as recently as last year, when Latin market broadcaster Univision sought an increase in advertising rates surpassing 40 percent, P&G dismissed the proposal outright and the network was hastily briefed on the company's one-digit policy. After negotiations, Univision walked away with a single digit, nine percent increase.

Asked if the JPC had ever offered a double digit increase during the commercial contract negotiations, a union source close to the SAG talks said, "They've never offered us a double digit increase in anything, not even close." The source said all proposals in the talks involved single digit numbers.

ANA's Daniel Jaffe told Playbill On-Line that, in the vast majority of cases, negotiations were netting single digit increases, "Because this is an era of low inflation. In some areas they're (actors) asking for triple digit increases," Jaffe said.

Ira Shepard added that the JPC had offered actors an 85 percent increase in cable rates. "Although there has not been a double digit settlement with any union anywhere [in years]," Shepard said, "our cable proposal represented an 85 percent increase which is certainly double digit." Shepard said that SAG admits it's an 85 percent increase in cable, but that the union claims that it turns into a four or five percent increase when averaged across the deal and other factors are considered.

"It's simple arithmetic," Shepard says. "The cable rate is at $1,000 and we proposed raising it to $1,850 in three years—that's 85 percent. They want 150 percent."

On the make-up of the JPC, Shepard said it was a broad-based industry group. "We choose from both the advertising agency and corporate members [of the ANA and Four A's]. Shepard said the JPC committee and the individuals who negotiate for it are drawn "out of names of [ANA] authorizers" which is a group comprising 140 major advertiser authorizers and 200 agency authorizers that make up the bargaining group.

"And that's as far as I'm going to go in describing our internal workings," Shepard said.

Shepard also dismissed comparisons between the stalled commercial talks and the successful IATSE contract talks with the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP). Some have drawn a comparison because the Oct. 1 IATSE pact and the ongoing SAG issue because IATSE gained "jurisdictional recognition" for the Internet, something SAG desperately wants.

"There's no comparison," Shepard says, "because IATSE is a day rate and we're not taking about a day rate here. We're talking about something for actors that doesn't currently exist. There is no television commercial analog on the Internet. This is a television and radio contract and they're asking us to accede [Internet] jurisdiction—but you can't add or subtract jurisdiction."

Shepard further explained the JPC's position, saying that while it is permissive to discuss the issue it is not mandatory. Because the Internet issue does not involve wages, hours and working conditions in a current contract, the JPC maintains that the National Labor Relations Act limits the scope of the labor negotiations to prohibit adding the Internet to the agenda. Moreover, the JPC says it is "illegal for one party [SAG/AFTRA] to 'demand to impasse' " as has occurred with the five-month commercial strike by actors.

"We are far apart on cable," Shepard said, "but one of the big issues is the Internet." Asked how long he expects the current stall to last, Shepard predicted: "I think it'll be a month at best."

-- By Murdoch McBride

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