Nearly 1,000 Denounce Ad Agency BBH at SAG-AFTRA Rally: "Shame on You"

Jonathan Handel

“The willingness of profitable companies to treat people working for them as commodities to be thrown out, stepped on, removed and put out really pisses me off,” said union national executive director David White.

A crowd of nearly 1,000 and a slate of fiery speakers on Wednesday marched to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to denounce advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty over the firm’s decision to abandon the SAG-AFTRA commercials contract and go non-union after about 20 years as a signatory.

The union says that move is legally impermissible, and as a result has been on strike against BBH since Sept. 20.

“We say back up and back off,” said the usually placid David White, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director. Addressing BBH directly, he added, “You think you’re coming for us? We’re coming for you.”

“This is the day that we stand up and say no,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris told The Hollywood Reporter. “Our members are standing strong.”

BBH “doesn’t want to pay a fair wage,” said Better Call Saul actor Patrick Fabian. “Union work is honest work … prideful work … American work.”

Joining the SAG-AFTRA leadership and members were leaders of Teamsters Local 399, American Federation of Musicians Local 47 and IATSE, as well as members of those unions and of the Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America West, stage performers union Actors Equity (itself currently on a strike in New York) and Canadian performers union ACTRA. Representatives of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) attended as well, as did Rusty Hicks, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“The Teamsters back up but they don’t back down,” said Steve Dayan, whose union includes the truck drivers who haul Hollywood equipment.

“If left unchecked, an employer such as BBH will do anything to crush us,” said IATSE second international vp Thom Davis.

“Shame on you to BBH,” said AFM Local 47 president John Acosta. “No contract, no peace.” Representatives of BBH, a unit of agency holding company Publicis Groupe, did not respond to a request for comment.

Complicating the matter for SAG-AFTRA are members who work on non-union commercials, a violation of the union’s Global Rule 1, printed on the back of membership cards. The union has brought disciplinary charges against at least 160 members in recent months for that violation, and as recently as Sunday it sent representatives 140 miles into the desert to photograph a non-union Cadillac shoot and identify members working non-union.

“Bust ‘em if they work off the card,” said secretary-treasurer Jane Austin at the rally, using common labor slang.

Overall, though, member solidarity and enthusiasm appear high. “I see such a difference from two years ago,” said Carteris. Alluding to the 2012 joinder of SAG and AFTRA she added, “We never would have been this strong if we hadn’t merged.”

“I’m angry,” acknowledged White, when asked about his tone on the stump (he may bring that passion to a wider venue now as well, as a new appointee to the San Francisco Federal Reserve board of directors). He added, “The willingness of profitable companies to treat people working for them as commodities to be thrown out, stepped on, removed and put out really pisses me off.”