Actors' Strike Unlikely, Says Guild President

A strike next year by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is not likely, according to a recent statement by the organization's president, William Daniels. "I'm optimistic that we can work something out with the industry," Daniels told reporters after a meeting with industry heavyweight Lew Wasserman at Universal Studios on Wednesday, August 23. Wasserman, the former head of MCA, is now a consultant at Universal, and is known throughout the industry as a shrewd negotiator and dealmaker.

Daniels said the widespread panic among film-production companies and television studios that are rushing current projects and stockpiling films in anticipation of a long drought is misguided. SAG's present contract expires next June, and there is plenty of time for negotiation before then, he said. "I wish people would stop talking about a strike. We haven't even started the process of what we're going to negotiate. We're at the very beginning stages of that. We're looking forward to the negotiations; there's a deal to be made," Daniels elaborated. "I don't know where all the strike talk is coming from."

Part of the talk stems from a prolonged strike, now entering its fifth month, by SAG and its sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), against advertising agencies and commercial production companies. At issue is payment for union actors who appear in commercials: Ad makers want to pay them a "flat fee" with a cap on total compensation, regardless of the number of times a commercial is shown; the unions are seeking a "pay-per-play" plan that would guarantee actors residual compensation every time a commercial runs. Stiking actors claim that payments to actors account for less than 1% of the total cost of commercials.

The SAG Foundation has just announced a $500,000 fund to support striking actors. Commercials currently in production are being made with non-union performers, who must cross picket lines to go to work. Those who do so are jeopardizing their careers because SAG membership is a requirement for speaking roles in feature films. Although a handful of top actors are multimillionaires, SAG's own statistics show that more than 80% of its members earn less than $5000 yearly from their craft. In displays of solidarity, members of other labor unions have joined SAG picket lines at production sites around the country. Negotiations with ad agencies are scheduled to resume September 23.

The strike against commercial makers is small stuff compared to the potential damage that could result from a strike against the entire film and television industry. Union members should be just as eager to avoid a work stoppage as executives are, according to Daniels, who indicated that talk of a strike 10 months from now does nothing but create animosity among parties who ought to be working toward an amicable deal. "I don't think it's healthy," Daniels emphasized. "I don't think it creates a conducive atmosphere for negotiations. I think it's wrong; I think it's stupid from whoever it's coming from because there is a deal that will be made and can be made, and that's what we should be focusing on."