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Actors Ordered Back to Work

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The joint boards of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists this week issued a "back to work" order for members, allowing them for the first time in six months to audition and shoot commercials.

The two unions' leaderships gave the order after voting to send a referendum to their 135,000 members for ratification of a new commercials contract. SAG and AFTRA negotiators had agreed to the new three-year pact with the Joint Policy Committee of the nation's two major advertising organizations: the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA).

Union actors were officially able to begin working as of Mon., Oct. 30, with those jobs subject to terms and conditions of the new agreement.

SAG's national communications office in L.A. had no information at press time about when the ballots and pact information might be mailed to voting members, nor of a deadline for returning the ballots.

The unions also marked last Monday as the official end of a nationwide boycott of three Procter & Gamble products: Tide laundry detergent, Ivory soap and Crest toothpaste. "Please destroy any materials you may have on the boycott and advise your friends that the boycott has been cancelled," SAG stated on its website.

SAG and AFTRA both are members of the 13-million-member AFL-CIO. The giant union had joined the two performers organizations earlier this month in announcing the nationwide P&G boycott, providing an unmistakable voice of solidarity. The advertisers moved back to the table soon after that, leading to the final pact. SAG and AFTRA had considered P&G a major behind-the-scenes mover in advertisers' attempts to break the unions.

The AFL-CIO website had devoted a special section to the commercials strike, including announcing the P&G boycott. That section wasn't listed on the site Monday, indicating the union had also called off the boycott.

The International Federation of Actors had also announced that, on Monday, its over 100 organizations in 70 countries were to begin a worldwide P&G boycott. It wasn't clear at press time if that boycott had been stopped.

A Solid 'Yea'

The vote by the SAG-AFTRA joint boards was overwhelmingly—but not unanimously—in favor of the new pact. Some SAG board members wanted a better deal in cable residuals. The unions had gone into negotiations proposing a dramatic increase in cable payments, calling for scrapping one-time buyouts and replacing them with a pay-per-play schedule much like their lucrative network plan.

But the JPC countered that, attempting to protect rising cable profits by proposing to scrap the 50-year-old network pay-per-play. The unions eventually backed away from the cable pay-per-play, taking instead a one-time buyout plan which increases each year of the pact. SAG negotiators have noted that the third-year increase is even higher than what they had first asked for.

The ANA's website listed only a brief press release announcing the SAG-AFTRA boards' vote and "back to work" order. According to Daniel Jaffe, the ANA's executive vice president, the new contract doesn't have to go to the ANA or AAAA's boards or memberships.

"The Joint Policy Committee had authority to negotiate and approve the contract for all those advertisers and agencies who are signatories," Jaffe said. "So our side of the process is done. We're hoping soon to be able to bring the full process to completion [with contract ap-proval by the unions' members] and get back to working in close harmony with the unions' actors."

As for the "back to work" order, actors wouldn't have to be told twice. Eileen Henry, New York co-chair of the SAG national contract committee, and Paul Christie, one of SAG/NY's strike leaders, both had made a livelihood, before the strike, working on commercials. Both indicated to Back Stage at last week's unions' press conference, where they celebrated the new agreement, that they already had on their running shoes, and were hoping to get with some spot productions soon.

Christie also expressed concern about the need for talent agents to see income resume after the half-year drought. He noted that his own agency had to close its Chicago office due to the strike, while still leaving its New York and Los Angeles doors open. He said he hoped the end of the strike might allow the Chicago office to reopen.

Agents, Film Producers at Hand

With literally no rest for the weary, SAG leaders are now turning their attention to the franchise agreement with talent agents.

William Daniels, SAG's national president, told Back Stage on Monday that the union and the Association of Talent Agents had scheduled talks beginning Thursday of this week through next Wednesday in Los Angeles.

The two sides had renewed talks briefly in October, hoping to reach some type of agreement before Oct. 20, when the franchise pact technically ended. Due to the union's concentration on the commercials strike and bargaining, SAG and the ATA missed the deadline, but the agents—who mostly have supported SAG through the strike—apparently have stood by the agreement, waiting for talks renewal this week.

Karen Stuart, the ATA's executive secretary, recently wrote SAG, stressing that "time is of the essence," and that her group was ready, and expected the union to be also, for renewal of negotiations.

The national board in February had approved agency regulation waivers by a narrow vote, further instructing the NEC to perform final negotiations on the waiver agreement with ATA.

But, as the ATA was voting to approve the agreement, including a long list of SAG conditions, William Daniels, the guild's national president, complained that he had been "sandbagged" on the issue, and was receiving member complaints about the pact.

After meetings with several high-profile SAG members, Daniels said he would prefer to send the issue to the entire guild membership as a referendum.

But, eventually, negotiations on the franchise agreement gave way to the commercials strike.

Among other things, the regulation waivers would have made talent agents more competitive with personal managers. They would allow agents to distribute and finance motion pictures and possess noncontrolling interests in production firms. But an agent still could not be "an active motion picture producer."

Meanwhile, SAG and AFTRA committees have begun meeting in preparation for talks with producers early next year on the lucrative feature films-TV contract.

Producers, concerned about a possible strike by actors and writers over theatrical and TV films, earlier this year had ordered that film projects be completed by April 2001, before writers' and actors' contracts would expire in May and June.

This week, the economist for Los Angeles' County Economic Develop-ment Corp. reported that a dual strike by writers and actors in 2001 could cost L.A.'s economy as much as $2 billion a month.

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