More than 70 SAG-AFTRA members rallied tonight at the union’s Los Angeles headquarters to draw attention to the plight of commercial actors. A grassroots organization called UnionWorking says that “upwards of 60% of commercials today are being produced using nonunion talent.” The guild declined to either confirm or deny that figure.
The rally is being held in advance of a meeting tonight that’s part of SAG-AFTRA’s ongoing #AdsGoUnion campaign to “help increase union commercial opportunities.”
“We’re here today to ask the union what they’re doing with celebrity outreach,” said rally organizer Killian McHugh at the event, which just wrapped. The veteran commercial actor, who operates a popular workshop on commercial acting, added: “A-list celebrities are getting millions of dollars for one day’s work, and then the next day the production company turns around and shoots a non-union commercial. We want to know what SAG-AFTRA is doing about it. I had a meeting with the president of SAG-AFTRA several months ago and I’m not seeing any progress.”
Deadline reported last week that actors are currently being cast in Los Angeles for a non-union NBA commercial. SAG-AFTRA says it’s “cracking down on members who don’t honor the commitment they made to their union sisters and brothers to only work union.” In the past year, the union says, it’s caught more than 130 of its members who have worked on non-union ads and sent them through the guild’s disciplinary process, where they face fines, suspension or expulsion.
“We’re engaging our members, nationwide, in this campaign because we need all hands on deck!” the union says. “We’re disciplining members who don’t honor their commitment to only work union jobs, because we’ll only be successful if we all stand strong together.”
Part of that campaign, the union said, is “making sure agencies and advertisers, who are signatory to our contracts, shoot all their ads union.” Last week, the guild threatened to sue the Bartle Bogle Hegarty ad agency, a longtime signatory to the guild’s commercials contract. The ad agency, the union says, “is now disputing its status as a signatory,” and the guild is challenging that position.
“I think the union has done a good job of assuring a fair standard of living for its members over the years,” said another actor at the rally. “But I just want to make sure that production companies continue to uphold those standards for performers they hire.”
The guild, meanwhile, says it’s taking numerous other actions to curb non-union productions, including:
- Enforcing our contracts – we make sure union signatories only shoot union.
- Building alliances with industry partners that include talent agents and casting directors
- Coordinating organizing efforts with sister unions – DGA, IATSE and Teamsters.
- Promoting our contracts to advertisers, ad agencies and production companies.
- Engaging and enlisting more members in our organizing efforts.
- Reaching out to pre-members and providing information on the benefits of SAG-AFTRA membership.
- Promoting our new “made-in/played-in” local and regional codes.
- Connecting with the next generation of commercials actors through outreach to acting schools and improv houses.
Many commercial actors, however, think the guild should doing a lot more to combat non-union productions.
“Unfortunately, the notion that we are ‘One Union’ is no longer applicable,” actor Jesse Daley said in a recent email to the guild’s leaders. “A divide has been created due to lack of action on the part of our staff and elected officials to adequately protect SAG members. Your loyal members need immediate and highly visible action to be taken and we deserve to be presented with all of the facts – including information about ad agencies who are jumping ship and advertisers who are not hiring union talent at union rates.
“While there are certainly many reasons that have brought us to this point in the commercial and advertising industry, the issue that must be addressed immediately is that your members are suffering — and we are suffering in large part due to greedy advertisers who are financially abusing commercial actors and ad agencies who are producing non-union content. This must stop and you have access to resources to stop it. Involving celebrities can and will help tremendously.”
UnionWorking, meanwhile, has created a video in which guild members are pleading with celebrity actors to take a stand by asking the advertisers they’re working for to make a commitment to hire union casts and crews. “Make sure the set you are running,” they say, “is using SAG-AFTRA talent, as well as the best folks from our sister unions, DGA, IATSE and the Teamsters.”
Said another actor at Monday’s rally: “The union affords actors protections beyond monetary. This is not only about money. This is also about creative dignity for creative artists.”