SAG-AFTRA Pickets Bartle Bogle Hegarty Ad Agency: "We're Mad as Hell"

Courtesy SAG-AFTRA / Sean Miller

BBH has attempted to unilaterally withdraw from the union contract, triggering a strike against the agency.

SAG-AFTRA’s battle with ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty ratcheted up Thursday morning as hundreds of actors and their supporters picketed the West Hollywood offices of the global agency, turning Melrose Blvd. into a raucous scene of chants and signs that slowed traffic and elicited honks and waves from passing cars as a giant inflatable rat presided over two lines of marchers that wound around the block and across a side street.

The performers’ union has been on strike against BBH since September 20. The issue: whether BBH, which the union says has been a signatory since 1999, can unilaterally withdraw from the SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreement and shoot commercials non-union — presumably at lower wages and without pension and health plans, residuals and other guild terms.

“BBH is trying to walk out on its contractual obligations and we are taking a stand,” said union president Gabrielle Carteris in a statement. “As union actors, we must hold the line against those attempting to undercut our collective value and our ability to sustain a career.”

After this article posted, BBH responded to an earlier inquiry. “BBH acknowledges SAG-AFTRA’s right to demonstrate,” said a spokesperson. “We continue to affirm our legal right to not renew our participation as a signatory to the SAG-AFTRA contract. We immensely value the creative talent we work with, and this decision does not change our commitment to fair wages and working conditions.”

“We want them to honor the contract they signed,” said SAG-AFTRA member Tom Musgrave as he took a pause from picketing. “[They’re] not honoring their word. This is for [my kids’] healthcare and the pension we earn working SAG-AFTRA jobs.”

BBH is a subsidiary of Publicis Groupe, a worldwide holding company that controls numerous advertising, marketing and PR firms. Some other Publicis units are signatories to the SAG-AFTRA commercials agreement, but the strike is only against BBH. A complaint by the National Labor Relations Board, filed at SAG-AFTRA’s urging, is pending, with a decision expected in the spring.

The union estimated the crowd of picketers at “nearly one thousand.” A reporter observed over two hundred picketers at any one time in front of BBH on Thursday, and the action lasted into the afternoon.

“I support my brothers and sisters of SAG-AFTRA, and organized labor in the United States,” said Elliott Gould, who added that he got his start as a 9- or 10-year-old in a candy commercial and still remembers his line: “It's better than delicious, it's scrumptious.”

Another member emphasized the issues at stake. “I really believe in fair pay and everything SAG-AFTRA stands for,” said 12-year commercial veteran Audrey Moore. The union “is able to go after companies and make sure safety is enforced. And pension and health is a really important part of the landscape."

The industry-wide commercials contract itself is up for renegotiation and revision next spring, and the union has begun the process of caucusing with talent agents and members. The contract and related commercials agreements have over 600 signatories, “which collectively produce the vast majority of commercials that viewers see every day,” according to the union. But looming over the negotiations is the growth in non-union commercials since a SAG/AFTRA commercials strike in 2000. That work stoppage achieved some goals but also jump-started a flood of non-union commercials.

The BBH picketing is part of the union’s national Ads Go Union campaign. On Aug. 23, SAG-AFTRA members leafleted an NBA commercial shoot in Venice that employed non-union actors — while the crew (IATSE) and even the basketball players (NBA Players Assn.) were unionized.

“Commercials are my bread and butter and I’m so grateful to the union,” said Laurel Coppock​, who is a national spokesperson for an automobile company. “SAG-AFTRA has changed my life,” continued the mother of two. “Fair wages and health insurance? It’s the reason I can have a family.”

Other picketers Thursday included Patrick Fabian, Frances Fisher, Kate Flannery, Spencer Garrett, Josh Groban, Sharon Lawrence, Kate Linder, Matt Letscher, Lisa Vidal and JoBeth Williams, according to the union.

“We’re angry,” summarized SAG-AFTRA secretary/treasurer Jane Austin, in the shadow of the inflatable rat. “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

A few minutes later, the rat itself gave out, the victim of a finicky generator powering its air pump. The picketing continued unabated under the watchful eyes of LAPD monitors, and the rat was soon restored to full height as the generator roared back to life.

Sept. 27, 6:25 p.m. PT Updated with BBH statement.