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SAG, Advertisers Reach Pact on Commercials

Both sides are eager to avoid a repeat of the impasse in 2000. The union and AFTRA must ratify the contract.

September 25, 2003|James Bates | Times Staff Writer

Actors and advertisers agreed Wednesday to a tentative three-year contract governing commercials, heading off a rerun of frictions that three years ago led to Hollywood's longest strike.

Specifics of the deal won't be unveiled until directors of the Screen Actors Guild and its sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, meet next week. Members of the unions must ratify the deal, with a vote likely by late October. The current contract expires Oct. 29.

"We are pleased there won't be a repeat of the last contract stalemate, which caused great pain for everyone in the commercial production industry," said Steve Caplan, senior vice president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. The group wasn't directly involved with the talks, which were conducted by representatives of major advertisers and ad agencies.

Sources said the agreement involved an increase in pay along with higher health-plan contributions, one of the chief concerns of members amid soaring health-care costs.

Face-to-face talks started Tuesday, with both sides eager to avoid a strike, especially in the face of the soft economy. In a joint statement, both sides said, "We have contributed to the momentum of economic recovery for our industry and have helped to insure that everyone keeps working."

The 2000 strike divided SAG into two camps that continue to battle today. Supporters of the strike said actors earned hard-won increases in pay, especially for cable TV ads. Critics said the action cost actors millions of dollars and helped launch a vibrant commercial-production business overseas that continues to lure commercial shoots away from Southern California.

In 2000, one of the main strike issues was a proposal to revamp payment schedules in ways actors alleged amounted to a rollback. Those proposals were eventually taken off the table when the strike was settled.

This time, both sides avoided that hot-button issue and quietly created a deal ahead of time behind the scenes. In the joint statement, the two sides said they did so "to assure advertising industry stability and to provide a foundation for the growth of earnings and employment for work in the advertising business."

Advertisers were represented by the Joint Policy Committee, a special bargaining arm that includes members of the Assn. of National Advertisers and the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies.

The names of companies spearheading negotiations have long been a closely guarded secret, although such consumer product companies as Procter & Gamble Co. are known to wield substantial clout in bargaining.

The announcement came one day after SAG President Melissa Gilbert was reelected to a two-year term. Gilbert represents a wing of SAG that has promised to be less strident than previous regimes. She was challenged by actors Kent McCord and Gordon Drake.

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