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Animation Actors Voice Disapproval of Guild Contract on Picket Line

June 20, 1987|JACK MATHEWS, Times Staff Writer

Striking animation actors, carrying picket signs displaying a menagerie of cartoon characters and such slogans as "I'm not Dumbo, I won't work for peanuts," marched in front of Hanna-Barbera's Cahuenga Pass studios Friday, joined by more than 100 fellow members from the Screen Actors Guild.

"For all our silly signs and the humor, we want those inside to know we're serious," said SAG President Patty Duke. "This (strike) is not about dollars and cents. It's about principles. These people (animation actors) have been working with the same contract for 20 years."

The animation actors branch of SAG, a group of voice specialists that numbers fewer than 200 members in the United States, struck Hanna-Barbera, Walt Disney and three other Los Angeles-based animation studios this week after making no headway in two key areas of a contract that has been under negotiations for more than a year.

According to representatives of both the actors and Hanna-Barbera, the negotiations include the guild's request for a 5% increase in the $361 day rate, an additional 25% bonus for every principal voice beyond one that an actor is asked to perform, and a change from an eight-hour to a four-hour workday.

In addition, management has proposed restructuring the current residual payment format to do away with paying fixed rates for programs that have little rerun value.

Apparently, it is the issue of a four-hour work day and bonuses for additional principal character performances that led to the impasse in negotiations that opened before the current contract expired June 30, 1986, and has gone on throughout the one-year extension.

"As a performer, when I heard 'four-hour day,' I thought, 'Hey, I would like to have that,' " said Duke. "But when you find out what kind of work they're doing, the stress they put on their vocal cords, the fact that they sit at microphones for four to six or eight hours at a time, a four-hour day seems like a long time."

Richard Sigler, vice president and general manager of Hanna-Barbera, called the stress on vocal cords a bogus element in the four-hour workday debate.

"The reason they want a four-hour day is so they can find another job and get paid twice for the same day," Sigler said.

Sigler said there have been no workman's compensation claims against the studio for vocal stress and said the actors can, under provisions of the SAG contract, refuse to continue whenever they feel endangered.

"Why would we want to blow the speaker tubes out on these people?," he said. "We bring them back day after day."

Marilyn Schreffler, a 10-year veteran animation actress who does most of the female characters for Hanna-Barbera's "Popeye and Son," said management has abused a contractual provision that was established 20 years ago for convenience. The current contract allows management to ask a performer to do three voices in one shift, and that sometimes means three major performances.

"The original concept was that you did a major character on a show and if there was a little bit, a line or two to be done, there was an actor there to do it," Schreffler said. "It's gotten to the point now where they will hire an actor who can do two parts and have that person do both instead of hiring two actors."

A SAG spokesman said the guild wants to rewrite that provision to limit an actor's work to one principal character and two incidental characters. For any additional major characters, the actor would be paid an additional 25% of the day rate.

"I don't see how they can say this (strike) is not over money when the two key issues would double or triple our costs," Sigler said. "They are asking for increases of two to three times their compensation."

The guild says the animation producers are committing less than 2% of their production budgets to the performers, while the voices arguably account for 50% of the eventual shows. Sigler said that when the costs of agents' fees (paid by management, he says), mandatory contributions to SAG's pension and welfare fund and employer-paid fringe benefits are added in, the performers actually account for between 7% and 12% of the production budget.

Schreffler said voice actors' work is seasonal, largely from May to September, and that even during seasons, very few actors work more than two or three days a week. She added that the biggest stars among them work for the minimum day rate.

"We're the only stars I know who work for scale," she said.

Sigler insisted that Hanna-Barbera pays some voice actors as much as three times the daily minimum.

Both sides seem to believe the strike will be a protracted one and there is talk of management recruiting voices from the general population. Sigler said that Hanna-Barbera is not pressed right now, but will consider outside voices.

"They will have a lot of candidates," Schreffler said. "There are a lot of people who say, 'You ought to hear my answer machine, I do great voices.' But wait until they get them in a studio. It's not easy."

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