Small progress in SAG-AFTRA ad talks

Moves toward consensus still minor at this point

SAG and AFTRA are inching closer toward advertisers in the ongoing talks for a new commercials contract and seem to have taken a step back from seeking strike authorization from the rank and file.

The moves toward consensus between the unions and the Joint Policy Committee, the negotiating panel for advertisers and advertising agencies, were described as relatively minor. Further, the labor groups are holding onto the possibility of sending out a strike referendum if sufficient progress is not made as the deadline approaches, sources added.

The commercials deal expires at midnight March 31. Before the unions have the authority to call a strike, they would need 75% of voting members to approve such a move.

Last week, it was leaked that the unions had drafted a letter to be sent to members with a strike-authorization referendum and that advertisers had proposed rollbacks, such as a cap on contributions to the unions' pension and health plans and changes in the payment structure that could lower residuals for Class A commercials (those on broadcast network TV). Within hours of the leak, the unions released a statement distancing themselves from such a move and said that getting authorization is a normal part of the negotiating process.

After an industrywide study by consulting firm Booz-Allen, the JPC has advanced a proposal that would keep overall compensation the same -- about $900 million -- but could, in effect, reduce Class A payments while increasing pay for work on basic cable.

Actors, veterans especially, are very protective of the pay-for-play model of Class A because it is very lucrative. The trouble is, according to the Booz-Allen study, actors might be overcompensated based on the actual number of consumers who are watching those ads. Meantime, actors who appear in basic cable commercials receive fixed quarterly payments -- meaning, they get the same amount of money whether an ad runs 300, 3,000 or 30,000 times in any 13-week period.

Sources also indicated that tempers are remaining even and that in the unions' caucus, SAG and AFTRA have learned to share. Moves and proposals from that side of the table are made more often through consensus than a vote of the joint committee.