At the request of federal mediators, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will send their chief negotiators to New York on June 13 to meet with ad industry representatives for the first time in two months. SAG president William Daniels, however, has cautioned that "this meeting is not a resumption of negotiations but simply an exploratory session to see if there are any significant reasons to return to the bargaining table."
As the actors strike against the ad industry entered its sixth week, Daniels rallied his troops on June 4, telling hundreds of cheering actors that "producers have virtually abandoned Hollywood as a site for commercial production."
Speaking at SAG's mid-year membership meeting at the Universal Sheraton, Daniels mocked claims by the advertising industry that commercial producers are proceeding with "business as usual" during the strike.
"There's no way in the world that the ad industry can truthfully say that it's "business as usual' when they're not working with the best [actors] in the business," Daniels said.
SAG activists have continued to attempt to drive this point home. On May 30, more than 500 strikers rallied in front of Sprint's corporate offices and marched on Wilshire Boulevard to picket the BBD&O and Leo Burnett ad agencies.
Ad production has largely left Los Angeles during the strike, though some production continues. On June 2, several commercials were shooting in and around Los Angeles, and the unions chased them down and put up picket lines.
On June 2, the unions picketed AT&T, a major TV advertiser, in Burbank and New York. More than 250 actors marched around an AT&T office in Burbank. In New York, some AT&T employees-members of the Communications Workers of America-refused to cross the unions' picket line.
SAG and AFTRA have made AT&T a "major target" of the strike, trying to force the telecommunications giant to sign one of their interim agreements so that AT&T commercials can be made during the strike with union talent.
Two weeks ago, several prominent actors attended the AT&T shareholders' meeting in Chicago and urged company chairman C. Michael Armstrong to sign an interim agreement. Armstrong promised the actors he would look into the matter.
TACTICAL CHANGE: LEAFLETING CDS
With commercial production drying up on the streets of Los Angeles, the striking actors unions have changed tactics in an effort to stem the flow of non-union actors working on out-of-town commercials.
"The change in strategy is to move right to the front doors of the casting directors and choke off the delivery of talent at that level," SAG and AFTRA national strike coordinator Gordon Drake said.
The unions will continue to picket commercial production sites whenever they can find them, but the number of commercials shooting in Los Angeles has plummeted during the monthlong strike, and it's getting harder for the unions to find one to picket.
Casting agencies are not signatories to the unions' contract, so technically, the unions are not striking or picketing them. Many casting directors, however, are continuing to cast out-of-town commercials, so the unions are stepping up their efforts to cut off the flow of non-union actors right at its source.
"We've identified a half-dozen casting directors who are consistently casting non-union spots, and from now on, we'll have a welcoming committee outside their door every day," Sloan said.
Those six casting agencies, Drake said, are Sheila Manning, Danny Goldman, Westside Casting, Third Street Studios, Chelsea Studios, and On Your Mark.
Drake said union "welcome committees" will be handing out leaflets to non-union actors as they go into the casting agencies to audition for non-union commercials. The leaflets will explain the unions' position in the strike and warn non-union actors they run the risk of never being allowed to join the unions if they cross the picket line.
Some of the actors who will be leafleting the agencies are themselves not members of the Screen Actors Guild-at least, not yet. Two weeks ago, SAG said it would open its doors to non-members if they performed 80 hours of volunteer work during the strike. As of last week, SAG officials said, more than 700 non-union actors had signed up for a chance to get their SAG cards through the volunteer program. (It has since been reported to Back Stage West that due to the large turnout for this "non-member outreach program," it has been discontinued for any future applicants.)
David Robb writes for The Hollywood Reporter. John Burman contributed to this report.