Actors unions hail tentative deal

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A jubilant group of actors, including Richard Dreyfuss, gathered Oct. 23 at a midtown Manhattan hotel for a news conference announcing a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract that will end the six-month commercial actors strike. Paul Reggio, captain of the national strike committee, introduced various players. "Both sides walk away with heads held high,'' said Shelby Scott, chairman of the America Federation of Television & Radio Artists. "Each side got something they wanted. The industry will be happy; they can shoot good ads again.'' There were no representatives of the Joint Policy Committee, which represented advertisers, at the event.

"At the end of the day, we held together and we won,'' Mr. Dreyfuss exclaimed, sounding the overall triumphant atmosphere of the event. "Unions decided to hold out for what they wanted and they got it.'' However, while they were holding out, the industry cranked out about 10,000 commercials and actors lost approximately $600 million in earnings.

John McGuire, lead lawyer for the Screen Actors Guild, was introduced as the "real hero'' of the strike. Mr. McGuire called the agreement fair and equitable. "Now is the time to build and restore the relationship with advertisers,'' said Mr. McGuire, who also characterized the agreement as a win for the unions. He briefly ticked off the issues on which the unions prevailed and glossed over the items on which the actors lost ground. Key among the union wins, according to Mr. McGuire, was keeping the pay-for-play standard on network broadcast. The advertisers wanted to abolish this and substitute a flat fee.

Mr. McGuire also claimed the unions won on the issue of the Internet. The agreement allows for the unions to have jurisdiction over negotiations on fees for commercials that appear on the Web. However, the agreement makes a distinction between commercials that are "move overs'' from broadcast, which will be paid a flat fee, and commercials that are created exclusively for the Web. According to a source close to the negotiations, fees paid for "pure'' Internet spots will be determined by the value of such advertising, which, because there are no streaming ads with actors yet, is an unknown and can only be calculated as the nascent format evolves.

The unions didn't succeed in achieving a pay-per-play system for cable, which according to the JPC would have increased advertisers' payouts to talent by 400%. Instead, cable remains on a flat fee basis with a raise, according to the unions, of more than 100% for actors by the third year of the contract.

Mr. McGuire said the Procter & Gamble boycott called by the unions will be put on hold until the agreement is ratified by the SAG and AFTRA boards and the memberships of both unions, which will vote in a secret ballot by mail. The boards will meet in plenary session in Los Angeles Oct. 28. Commercial production may begin as soon as Oct. 30.

Mr. McGuire indicated, however, the unions will still proceed with internal adjudication against members who worked during the strike, pointing out that the unions have the right to expel offending members. Gerald Kline, the leader of the New York SAG/AFTRA strike task force, said that many members still harbor hard feelings against members who worked. "You know what they used to say in the mining districts of Scotland,'' Mr. Kline said. "A scab goes down in the mine. The scab doesn't come out.''

Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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