SAG weighs in at nonunion audition

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SAG national president Alan Rosenberg and several Hollywood board members made a surprise appearance Thursday outside an audition for a nonunion Mercedes-Benz commercial in West Hollywood to inform actors entering the audition of its nonunion status. They also distributed a flier that read, "Professionals do not work nonunion."

Rosenberg was joined by Todd Amorde, SAG's national director of organizing; national board member Anne-Marie Johnson; David Jolliffe, chair of the Commercials Committee and a Hollywood board alternate; and Hollywood board alternate Anthony DeSantis.

Jolliffe said he learned about the audition the previous evening and coordinated the mild protest with Amorde, Rosenberg and SAG executive director Doug Allen.

"It hurts all of us," Jolliffe said about nonunion work. "We're just volunteering our time and trying to keep our union strong and vibrant."

He estimated that the SAG reps talked with 10-15 actors over roughly an hour and a half. The actors were a mix of union, nonunion and financial core members.

"Nonunion work and FiCore is killing us across the country -- here in Los Angeles, too, but it's a major issue across the country," Rosenberg said. "Nobody wants to work nonunion. They're just looking at it as their only alternative."

He said similar actions at auditions could be expected as the union nears its key negotiations with employers in 2008.

"There are agents and casting directors out there who are encouraging people to go FiCore -- that becomes an issue in our discussions with the (Association of Talent Agents]," Rosenberg said.

He recently initiated a series of member meetings to discuss plans for the union's first new agency franchise agreement since 2002.

DeSantis, a commercial actor himself, said SAG's protest was not aimed at Mercedes or the casting director, Alyson Horn. "Alyson Horn is not somebody we have a problem with. We're not here about her," he said. "We're here about actors and just informing them what's going on."

He added: "Doing nonunion work hurts the union's ability to negotiate the best contracts for its members. Nobody wants to spend their life as a nonunion actor. And so why would you want to cripple the union's ability to negotiate contracts by giving the advertisers and the production companies the talent pool that they can use? If everybody refused to do nonunion work, they'd all have to do union jobs."

Horn, however, said she "didn't appreciate" SAG disrupting her casting sessions.

"I have the right to cast union and nonunion commercials," she said. Horn added that an unnamed agent called to say his or her client decided not to audition after being "bullied" by the SAG officials outside. According to Horn, the agent said the FiCore actor had been pushed by one of the union members distributing fliers.

Jolliffe and DeSantis said allegations of bullying or pushing are not true.

Horn also questioned why SAG was objecting to union actors auditioning for a nonunion commercial but doesn't protest when A-list actors such as Will Smith and Julia Roberts appear in music videos, a genre outside of SAG's jurisdiction.

"SAG doesn't seem to mind if a celebrity does something that's outside of their rules," she said, "but they really seem to take offense when a hard-working actor who's trying to put food on the table does something."

Lauren Horwitz is news editor at Back Stage West.
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