SAG-AFTRA Ad Talks Bust Deadline

Talks continue past midnight’s witching hour on a commercials contract — but no strike whisperings.

Last Updated: April 1, 2009 @ 8:01 AM

Well, midnight Tuesday has passed, and still no solution in the SAG-AFTRA commercials talk.

Talks have continued into early Wednesday at the Crowne Plaza in New York, and there still is not talk of a strike, even though the current contract has now expired.

A news blackout has been in place since the contract’s negotiations began in New York on Feb. 23 and resumed March 21 after a brief break. However, the ad industry’s lead negotiator, Douglas Wood, said Monday on the ANA/AAAA Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Union Relation blog that he is “cautiously optimistic” that both sides will agree on a new pact soon.

He insisted that no strike is imminent: “There is no reason to believe that there will be any immediate disruption in commercial production even if we don’t come to a final agreement before midnight, March 31,” Wood said. “Both sides continue to have open and productive negotiations.”

Both sides have made major progress, he said, and the “next couple of days will be critical to reaching a new agreement.”

Wood, who serves as general counsel to the Association of National Advertisers and is a partner at Reed Smith, also assured advertisers that commercial production will continue should the contract expire. SAG actors have continued working under their TV/Theatrical contract that expired in June.

AFTRA declined to comment about Wood’s blog post, citing the press blackout. SAG has not returned a request from TheWrap for comment.

The commercial talks have been quiet and conciliatory compared with SAG’s ongoing battle with the studios over its TV/theatrical pact. Some controversy did arise when a draft of a strike authorization letter for the commercial talks was leaked to the press on March 17.

The letter stated that the joint committee had proposed major rollbacks in pension and health contributions and drastic changes to the compensation model already in place. An individual close to the talks told TheWrap that the committee had proposed cutting contributions to pension, health and retirement funds by more than $20 million — and had yet to respond to SAG and AFTRA’s proposals for an increase in basic wages and a set pay structure for new media work.

SAG and AFTRA responded that the unions had no intention of sending the strike-authorization letter.

“This is one of many contingency documents that we prepare in the course of any negotiations, particularly as we approach the expiration of a contract,” the unions said in a joint statement. “Our members understand that this is a normal part of the bargaining process. We will continue to bargain in good faith with the industry in an effort to get a deal.”

Wood said the joint policy committee was not concerned about the letter or reports that the talks were not going well.

“The rumors that things are ‘grim,’ as one reporter opined, could not be further from the truth. Both sides continue to negotiate in good faith with every intention of avoiding labor disruption,” Wood wrote on the committee’s blog on March 18. “Nor is the JPC concerned that the unions may be drafting potential notices to their members.  Doing so, as the unions reported, is a normal part of the process and no different than the JPC’s preparation of draft notices to authorizers should developments require alternative planning.”