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Spot-Pact Strike Starts via Rallies

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With no negotiation movement on either side, the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Tele-vision and Radio Artists are gearing up for a Mon., May 1 commercials production strike with rallies and calls for volunteers.

The action will include May 1 rallies in New York and Chicago. The noon New York rally will take place at a location that hadn't been set by press time. For more information, SAG and AFTRA members can call the strike hotline at (212) 582-6158, check the SAG or AFTRA websites (www.sag.org and www.aftra.com), or e-mail NYstrike@inetmail.att.net.

In the meantime, producers are publicly stating they will continue shooting spots by using non-union actors or going outside the U.S. to Canada or Europe.

William Daniels, SAG's national president, seemed both geared for the walkout and undisturbed by producers' plans. "We have every plan to activate a strike," he told Back Stage on Tuesday. "There hasn't been any movement. We've been in touch with the negotiators and the federal mediators. They wanted to know if we were coming off any of our demands. We're not. And there's no movement from the advertisers."

Responding to producers' threats of going overseas, Daniels said, "I suppose there's nothing to stop them from going abroad; however, this is the home of commercials: this is where the talent is."

Plus, Daniels is aware that the performers unions abroad have already shown strong support for SAG and AFTRA's negotiation position, including if the unions decided to call a strike. "We have a lot of support in Canada and elsewhere," he said.

How that foreign support translates specifically could be an interesting unfolding within the strike drama. Both Canada's Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) and Europe's International Federation of Actors (FIA) have communicated their support to SAG and AFTRA.

Stephen Waddell, ACTRA's national executive director, on Tuesday told Back Stage that, should a U.S. spot producer come to Canada, "we would ask the producer to sign the SAG-AFTRA interim agreement."

SAG and AFTRA are in the process of preparing an interim agreement which would allow union performers to act in commercial productions while the strike is on. However, advertising industry leaders are encouraging producers not to sign the agreements.

Should the U.S. producer in Canada refuse to sign the pact, "we would ask our members not to provide service on that production, if we know that it's a production moving to Canada to evade a strike," Waddell noted.

What if an ACTRA member worked on the production anyway?

"Under our constitution and bylaws, there's a bylaw that says ACTRA members must respect the terms of a reciprocal agreement with other unions," Waddell explained. "We have a reciprocal agreement with SAG and AFTRA which recognizes that our members wouldn't accept struck work."

Waddell recalled how last year, during ACTRA's bargaining battle on a new Independent Production Agreement with Canadian and U.S. producers, SAG's then-national president Richard Masur had sent a letter directly to each ACTRA member, stating that SAG would instruct its 95,000 members to not accept work on ACTRA sets in the event of a strike by the Canadian performers.

"That's what unions are all about," Waddell said.

Waddell, to return Back Stage's call, actually took a break from his current contract negotiations with his own staff. He also noted that ACTRA on May 11 and 12 will meet with a federal mediator in the union's stalled negotiations with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for renewal of the ACTRA/CBC TV and radio agreements, which expired on July 3, 1999.

Showdown in Europe?

Last week, Shoot, the newsweekly for commercial production and post-production, carried a lengthy story in which producers consistently said they would go to Europe to avoid the strike.

They may find problems there too, via the FIA. In late March, Daniels received a letter of support from Tomas Bolme, FIA president.

"I wish you to be in no doubt," Bolme said in the missive, "not only of the continuing support and concern of FIA members for SAG, but of our wish to assist you in any way we can in the negotiations, through demonstrations of solidarity to your members, and practical support to any actions-including industrial action, should it take place-that you and your colleagues take in the coming weeks as things develop...

"...We remain at your disposal to mobilize our colleagues in 70 countries," added Bolme, whose FIA represents nearly 100 organizations, "through direct contact as well as through our member website and networks, to support the board and membership of SAG in any way we can. We are able to do this at extremely short notice on instruction from you. Please do not hesitate to involve us."

Calls to the FIA weren't returned by press time.

Meanwhile, SAG's website is calling on members to volunteer for a Strike Prep Task Force, and announcing a Thursday strike prep meeting for the Oregon and South Washington membership. A strike prep meeting has already taken place in Hollywood.

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