SAG-AFTRA has accused Bartle Bogle Hegarty of lying to actors about the union’s commercials contract, to which the ad agency has withdrawn as a signatory.

“BBH claims their reason for trying to illegally abandon their obligations to you, the commercial performer, is because our union contract is outdated and we haven’t evolved with the ad industry,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris and national executive director David White told members today. “That is simply not true…Don’t believe the lies. BBH is just trying to exploit talent so they can undercut their competition.”

Earlier this week, BBH posted an open letter to the acting community explaining its decision not to renew its signatory status.

“We are hired to operate in the best interests of our clients, and part of that is being able to deliver the greatest level of flexibility and value for the work we do,” the ad agency said. “We are simply looking to level the playing field for all of us. The current contract was put in place nearly 20 years ago, when the Internet was in its infancy and the advertising world was a vastly different place, with vastly different economics. The cutting-edge work we do at BBH US across all mediums is not well-served by a contract that was designed for a traditional media landscape. The need for speed, agility, and greater efficiencies in how we produce work has become increasingly important in today’s market. Many of our peer agencies are not signatories, making it hard to compete sustainably in a way that benefits our clients.”

Union leaders, however, said that “If BBH had been paying attention, they would know SAG-AFTRA negotiated the Social Media Waiver into the contract two years ago. Even more noteworthy, the union launched the popular Low Budget Digital Waiver a year ago. These and other changes allow significant flexibility in the creation of social media and digital ads. The industry loves them. These changes have helped top agencies successfully adapt to an evolving ad industry.”

BBH said “We immensely value the creative talent we work with, and this decision does not change our commitment to fair wages and working conditions.”

SAG-AFTRA leaders, however, mocked that claim. “Isn’t that interesting?” they asked derisively. “In one of their recent non-union ads, they paid performers $150 to audition with a live bear. Other performers were paid $350 for a session fee and way under industry norms for residuals. Sorry, paying pennies on the dollar doesn’t sound like fair wages to us. A SAG-AFTRA contract protects you from dangerous conditions and unacceptable rates. It stops employers from doing whatever the heck they want at the expense of their workers. Did we mention the live bear?”

BBH said that “It is unfortunate that the current SAG-AFTRA commercials contract has placed signatory agencies at a competitive disadvantage. In withdrawing as a signatory, BBH US can operate in precisely the same manner as its peer agencies, providing work opportunities to performers across the full spectrum of the creative community. While this was a difficult decision, it was one we had no choice but to make.”

Faced with this,” Carteris and White wrote, “we will now use every tool at our disposal to bring BBH back to the table to negotiate a fair contract for our members.” Last month, as the dispute escalated, the union threatened to sue the ad agency as part of its ongoing campaign to unionize non-union commercial productions.