Celebs back strikers

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The striking actors unions on Sept. 27 held a celebrity-studded news conference in New York to rally the troops, as no end to the labor conflict seemed imminent. Speakers said talks between the unions and advertisers were at a "critical juncture.'' One Screen Actors Guild member in attendance said he believed earlier in the day talks would be called off because of an impasse, which prompted the planning of the news conference. In attendance were Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Rosie O'Donnell, who encouraged SAG members to persevere. Celebrities in attendance said the unions wouldn't walk away from the bargaining table before the advertisers did. Ms. Sarandon alluded to a possible boycott of products if the strike isn't ended. One member of the negotiating team said: "If the talks broke down, I couldn't imagine there would not be a boycott.'' Ms. O'Donnell urged SAG members not to think of corporate America as their enemy. "It's not us against them--corporate America makes it possible for many of us to make a living. It doesn't benefit anyone to have an us-against-them mentality.''

Because the two groups have been meeting for 10 days in a row, there was speculation that progress was being made. However, executives close to the negotiations said the advertisers reportedly were ready to walk out at least two times when they believed the unions weren't going to move on some key issues. Several issues have emerged as the most troublesome, including compensation for exposure on cable and Internet, and the monitoring of ads.

The Joint Policy Committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers had backed away from completely eliminating the pay-per-play economic formula by suggesting that some emerging networks such as the WB and UPN, or some cable networks, could still employ the financial model. At the same time, the unions also have given up some ground and agreed to flat fees in some broadcast and cable areas. Advertisers said no, however, because those flat fees were too high.

Though the JPC swears there's been no dissension in its ranks, one executive said three major advertisers weren't happy with the committee's negotiating group, and wanted it to make more concessions. At least one of the three advertisers was a automotive marketer, the executive said.

Copyright September 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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