Strikers reject concession bid, talks continue

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The first major concession in the talks to end the 5-month-old commercial actors strike has come from advertisers, according to executives close to the negotiations. But as of press time, the two sides were nowhere near an agreement and negotiations were expected to continue this week.

The Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Union Relations, the advertising industry's bargaining arm, proposed partially pulling back its demand to eliminate the pay-per-play economic model, where actors get paid each time a commercial airs. Previously, the Joint Policy Committee proposal was to change all compensation to one flat-rate fee for actors.

EMERGING NETWORKS

Now, the committee has said it will allow pay-per-play on "emerging networks" such as the WB and UPN. But, according to executives familiar with the talks, the unions turned down this offer. The unions, which struck on May 1, are demanding play-per-play be reinstated for all broadcast networks, as well as instituting a pay-per-play system for cable networks and Internet sites.

The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, which arranged the meeting, suggested a "90-day cooling off period," with the actors returning to work immediately under the old contract guidelines as negotiations continue.

Under the old agreement, actors were paid on a pay-per-play model for broadcast networks, and received a single payment when their work appeared on cable networks. Executives close to the talks said the committee agreed to this "cooling off" period -- but the unions resisted.

NOT AVAILABLE

A representative from the committee did not return calls for comment. Representatives from the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists could not be reached at press time.

The committee's original contract proposal stipulated that actors would get a fee based on one 13-week run of a commercial. After that period, if an advertiser chose to use the spot again, the actor would command another fee. Under the old contract, actors got a $1,000 minimum fee plus residuals for broadcast. Under the new committee proposal, actors would get a fixed $2,575 fee for the 13 weeks, in addition to a 60% increase in payments for cable exposure capped at $1,627. Overall, performers would earn a minimum of $4,202.

Industry analysts believe the unions are feeling somewhat stronger in their positions recently, especially now that major movie talent has come forward to support the strike, either through donations to the unions or actual protests during demonstrations. Nicolas Cage, Harrison Ford, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey have all recently made donations of $100,000 or more.

Advertising negotiators have complained for some time that the unions weren't interested in "negotiation" -- that they weren't moving on any issues. Under the unions' proposed pay-per-play cable formula, according to the committee, actors would get a 350% increase in payments.

SHARING THE WEALTH

The unions have focused their efforts on publicizing that advertisers gleaned tremendous profits in the last several years, and advocating that they should share the wealth.

Barring a last-minute settlement, negotiations were expected to resume today, the ninth day of negotiations since federal mediators called the two sides together on Sept. 13.

Last week, the unions issued a pointed attack against one major TV advertiser, Procter & Gamble Co., saying that if the current negotiations failed, they would hold it responsible and target a number of its products for a boycott. A SAG spokesman said it chose P&G over No. 1 advertiser General Motors Corp. because "there are more opportunities for consumer participation than in boycotting other big TV advertisers."

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