Daily Labor Report®

George Clooney, Tom Hanks Back Union in Ad Agency Rift (1)

Feb. 13, 2019, 11:01 AMUpdated: Feb. 13, 2019, 3:16 PM

SAG-AFTRA, one of the entertainment industry’s largest labor unions, is adding more Hollywood star power to a monthslong feud with ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty Inc. Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and Jennifer Aniston are some of the recent celebrities backing the union in its strike of the agency.

BBH withdrew from SAG-AFTRA’s commercials contract and began shooting ads with nonunion labor in September, prompting the union to launch a boycott of the company. BBH had been in partnership with the union since 1999. Nike Inc., Audi AG, Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Marriott, and Samsung all have used BBH for past ad campaigns.

Dozens of celebrities have since signed on in support of the strike.

“What you see here is our unity and strength as a membership,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement.

BBH had a legal right to not renew participation in SAG-AFTRA’s contract covering commercials, a company spokesperson said in a statement to Bloomberg Law. The union challenged the contract pullback by filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

“We immensely value the creative talent we work with, and this decision to not renew our signatory status does not change our commitment to fair wages and working conditions,” the company spokesperson said. “We simply need the flexibility that this current contract does not allow in order to continue to do great work with great actors, both SAG-AFTRA and non-SAG-AFTRA talent alike.”

The company also wrote an open letter to actors explaining the “difficult decision” to withdraw from the union contract last month.

Corporate Clients Targeted

A number of companies that use BBH for ad campaigns have found themselves in the crossfire between the union and the company.

Nike Inc. and Audi AG are two of the companies that SAG-AFTRA has called out for using BBH.

None of the companies immediately responded to a request for comment on how the strike will affect future business with the ad agency.

As part of the strike, no SAG-AFTRA members are allowed to work on BBH projects, cutting short the list of talent the agency can use in its projects.

That talent is essential to BBH’s operations, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White said in a statement to Bloomberg Law.

“Using professional talent—whether celebrities or journeyman actors—is essential to helping their clients break through ‘the noise’ and reach potential customers with effective storytelling,” White said.

Negotiations Ahead

The media blitz against BBH comes as SAG-AFTRA prepares for contract negotiations for the 2019 Commercials Contracts. Bargaining opens Feb. 20 in New York, according to the union.

The previous contract, negotiated in 2016, expires March 31. A union spokesperson declined to comment on how the strike relates to upcoming talks.

The Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies jointly negotiate with SAG-AFTRA on behalf of the advertising industry.

(Updated with additional quote from SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com; Cathleen O'Connor Schoultz at cschoultz@bloomberglaw.com

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