Grips' union in N.Y. backs striking actors

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Members of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 52, in New York refused Oct. 5 to cross the picket line on the New York set of a commercial that Saatchi & Saatchi was shooting for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Physique haircare brand, shutting down the scheduled seven-day production on the last day of filming. It's the first time that the union, which represents grips, electricians and prop masters, has taken any action in the 5-month-old actors strike. The Physique commercial featured 15 non-union actors who are models, mostly imported from Europe.

"It looks as if [Local] 52 is honoring the SAG position,'' said Sterling Ray, president of Atlas Pictures, the Los Angeles-based production company handling the commercial."There is no reason for us to continue the shoot. They are walking off, and we are going to attempt to finish this in a different way.'' John Ford, secretary-treasurer of Local 52, refused to comment. IATSE recently signed a new three-year contract, containing a no-strike clause, with the Association of Independent Commercial Producers. Atlas Pictures is an AICP member but isn't a signatory to the IATSE contract. The action therefore isn't technically in violation of the terms of that agreement.

"They unfortunately do not have the protection that everyone else on the collective bargaining agreement has,'' said AICP President Matt Miller."It's a crazy action by the IATSE, whose No. 1 objective should always be the welfare of their members, who as we know, have not been working a lot [due to the actor strike] and are desperate for work.'' Mr. Miller said the Screen Actors Guild was taking advantage of a loophole in the AICP membership rules, one that allows a production company to be a member of the organization while at the same time not being covered by the AICP/IATSE contract. He was confident the action wouldn't spread to other productions."This is a one in a million shot that a large advertiser would happen to be using a production company that does not have signatory status with the AICP's collective bargaining status,'' Mr. Miller said."It was just dumb luck. The chance of that happening again is slim. All that it will do is take away a day of work from IATSE members.''

A SAG/AFTRA spokesman said he believed the action was taken by individual members of the IATSE and wasn't a decision dictated by the union's leadership. "Individual members of the IATSE elected not to cross our picket line," he said, "and the production company abandoned the project."

The Physique production has been plagued by SAG-related problems from the beginning. It has been picketed by the union, and executives close to the production said celebrities such as Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins personally phoned owners of booked locations and talked them out of allowing their properties to be used for filming, forcing the crew to scramble for new sites in the city. Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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