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SAG Sends Warning to Agents and CDs

The striking actors unions are threatening to crack down on talent agents who supply non-union actors to commercial producers during the unions' ongoing strike against the advertising industry. SAG has also put Hollywood's casting directors on notice that they face criminal prosecution if they continue to cast non-union actors in TV commercials without informing the actors that SAG is on strike against the ad industry.

Talent agents who are found to have helped struck producers during the strike will receive SAG and AFTRA's equivalent of the death penalty: the revocation of their agency's franchises to represent union actors.

"We have received distressing reports that some franchised agents have submitted non-union performers for struck work," the unions' chief negotiators said in a letter sent this week to Hollywood's talent agencies. "SAG and AFTRA will monitor franchised talent agent actions throughout this strike and will review any continuing uncooperative conduct for possible revocation or suspension of the SAG agency franchise."

In their letter to the talent agencies, SAG chief negotiator John McGuire and AFTRA chief negotiator Mathis Dunn said "the vast majority" of talent agents are abiding by the unions' regulations but claimed that some agents are known to be breaking the rules.

"Union-franchised talent agents owe a duty of loyalty to their clients pursuant to SAG's and AFTRA's Agency Regulations," they said. "Sending clients to do struck work undermines that duty and is a violation of the agent's duty to their member clients. You must not supply talent for struck work through any division of your agency."

The Association of Talent Agents maintains that its members are not submitting actors for struck work and any allegations to the contrary are based on "misinformation."

On its website, the ATA said it has "voiced a concern to SAG regarding misinformation from the SAG strike committee targeting alleged non-union-submitting agents. SAG claims they gathered the information from casting-audition sheets that noted specific agencies. ATA said that in most instances, submissions are made by non-franchised agents and managers. Though the agency name is on the actor's picture and resum -and the actor may write in the agency name-the agent did not submit the actor. In light of the ATA member support, serious wrongful accusations must be corrected."

Throughout the strike, which began May 1, the ATA has said it "supports the goals and objectives of the SAG/AFTRA commercial strike." ATA executive director Karen Stuart said that remains the policy of the ATA.

In SAG's warning to casting directors who fail to inform talent about the strike, the union cites Section 973 of the California Labor Code, which states that when a strike is in effect, a person who solicits employees to work during the labor dispute must explicitly inform applicants of the existence of the strike.

SAG officials, however, maintain that some casting directors are ignoring the law by luring non-union actors to job sites without telling them a strike is in progress. A non-union actress said that has been her experience on several occasions.

"They don't tell you that there's a strike on," she said. "I had to ask them."

Another non-union voiceover actress had an even worse experience-she was deceived by a commercial producer who lied about the nature of the production, she said. The actress was told the shoot was going to be an in-house video, but when she showed up for work, it turned out to be a commercial. Such false advertisement is strictly prohibited by the law.

On another legal front, SAG has filed an unfair labor practices charge against AT&T, Beau Bonneau Casting, and the Foote Cone & Belding ad agency in San Francisco for allegedly threatening employees who honored SAG's picket line during the first week of the strike.

According to the complaint, which SAG filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the "employer threatened its employees that if they honored a SAG picket line, they would never work for the employer again." Bonneau called the charges "absurd."

"The matter is under investigation right now," said Mark Ross, an attorney representing the ad agency. "The NLRB is investigating the case and so are we."

Representatives of SAG and AFTRA, meanwhile, will be meeting with ad industry reps in New York today for the first time since the strike began May 1. The talks, called at the urging of federal mediators, are not formal negotiations, but are being called "exploratory sessions" designed to see if either side is willing to compromise. So far, however, neither side has shown any sign of being willing to budge from its hardened set of contract demands.

The unions, meanwhile, continue to picket commercial shoots in and around Los Angeles. Commercial producers have largely fled the streets of Los Angeles for the safer environs of studio lots, where they can shoot commercials without being harassed by noisy picketers.

On June 8, the unions set up picket lines outside Universal Studios, where several commercials-including spots for Ford, Campbell's Soup, Dunkin' Donuts, and Nabisco-were shooting.

The unions say more and more non-union actors are walking off the set every day to join up with their fellow actors on the picket line.

SAG claims that more than 25 principal performers who had been hired to work on struck commercial productions in Los Angeles have quit their jobs and joined SAG since the strike began May 1.

David Robb writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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