Union walks off set, disrupting P&G ad shoot

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In a move that striking ad actors hope will set a precedent -- but which may prove to be an isolated incident -- the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees stopped work on a Procter & Gamble Co. commercial shoot Oct. 5.

The commercial production industry fears a wholesale sympathy strike by IATSE, which represents grips, electricians and prop handlers. A IATSE refusal to cross picket lines could do what the 5-month-old Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists strike has so far failed to -- shut down commercial production.

Advertisers expect federal mediators to return in about a month to restart negotiations with the commercial actors union. On Sept. 28, talks reached an impasse despite both sides pulling back from some of their demands. The two groups remain stuck on a fee structure for cable TV commercials and whether SAG should be allowed to negotiate Internet rights for its members.

ON THE SEVENTH DAY

Last week, the theatrical workers union refused to cross the SAG picket line during the last day of a weeklong shoot for a Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, account, P&G's Physique haircare brand. The shoot featured 15 non-union actors, mostly models imported from Europe. Los Angeles-based Atlas Pictures produced the commercial.

Matt Miller, president of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, characterized IATSE's action as an anomaly since the union recently signed a new three-year contract with AICP containing a no-strike clause. But while Atlas Pictures is an AICP member, it isn't a signatory to the IATSE contract.

"They unfortunately do not have the protection that everyone else on the collective bargaining agreement has," said Mr. Miller.

`DRY RUN'

A SAG/AFTRA spokesman said he expects more cooperation between SAG and IATSE going forward. "I would characterize [the walkout] as a dry run," said the spokesman. "There is nothing formal between us, [but] IATSE President Tom Short made it clear their union intended to assist SAG and show solidarity."

John Ford, secretary-treasurer of IATSE Local 52 in New York, declined to comment.

Mr. Miller said only a handful of production companies that are AICP members work outside the IATSE contracts. In Atlas' case, the company infrequently shoots in New York and signs temporary contracts when it does.

"We knew this was coming," said John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the Joint Policy Committee of Broadcast Talent Relations, which represents the Association of National Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies. P&G knew about the walkout in advance, he said, and took steps to protect the shoot.

By and large, IATSE rank and file members have not been sympathetic to the strike. Gerald Kline, a SAG strike task force leader, acknowledged SAG has not always been supportive of other unions, but said it is now "building bridges."

`LAW IS ON YOUR SIDE'

"We haven't been very good union brothers and sisters in the past and we are telling our own people that you as individuals always have protection under the federal labor law, [the law is] on your side should you decide to honor another union's picket line."

SAG recently called for a boycott of P&G products. The Physique shoot was plagued by union problems from the start. The shoot was picketed, and executives close to the production said SAG representatives forced the crew to scramble for new sites by convincing owners of locations that had been reserved to cancel the bookings.

But one production executive said the IATSE walkout had no impact on the shoot since principal photography was done. "We got our spot," said the executive, "and we did it after six days of shooting in New York City with over a dozen non-union actors, right in the middle of a strike."

Contributing: Wayne Friedman

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