TORONTO — Unionized commercial actors are calling for a boycott of six brands that work with ad agencies embroiled in a nearly yearlong labour dispute.
The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists has turned to shaming brands including Rogers and Walmart as it seeks higher pay, protections and benefits amid fractious talks to renew the National Commercial Agreement with the Institute of Canadian Agencies (ICA).
The list of brands targeted also include Canadian Tire, McDonald’s, M&M Food Market, and H&R Block, who all work with agencies represented by the ICA, which disputes ACTRA's account of the impasse.
ACTRA international president Eleanor Noble said members will not work without an agreement and are effectively locked out while the ICA turns to non-unionized performers.
“We gave them a courtesy, we sent them a letter to let them know in advance what we would be doing and we never heard back,” Noble said of the boycott campaign.
The Canadian Press reached out to representatives for the brands named but did not receive comment.
“Our members would prefer to be building these brands rather than telling the entire labour movement across the country to boycott them.”
In the meantime, Noble said members are struggling to make ends meet.
“We have meetings and we are close with our members and we see how stressed they are,” said Noble.
“They are literally in tears, trying to make ends meet and people are trying to pay their bills, pay their mortgages, and get food on the table."
However, ICA president and CEO Scott Knox said his group has not barred ACTRA from work, and said it's the union that has told members to refuse jobs with ICA agencies.
He said that's left ICA members — which include advertising, marketing, media and public relations agencies — no choice but to turn to non-unionized performers.
"We continue to try and hire active performers, albeit through third-party payroll companies (BC Productions, Extreme Reach and The TEAM Companies) as everybody else does, and ACTRA is still saying no to a list of the agencies on its website and is actively telling performers and casting not to work with them," said Knox.
"For all intents and purposes, this is a strike by ACTRA. Not a lockout. Because we've not prohibited anything. We keep trying and they keep saying no.”
Knox blamed the disagreement on ACTRA, stating the union allowed agencies that didn’t sign the agreement better and more flexible access to union and non-union talent.
ACTRA has also launched a campaign against the Government of Canada to end a contractual agreement with Cossette Media, one of the advertising agencies represented by ICA.
“Members are outraged that the federal government, who keep claiming that they want to protect gig workers and are building an anti-scab legislation are actually using Cossette as their ad agency,” said Noble.
“We expect as a union that our government practice what they preach.”
In a statement, the ICA said Cossette's work for the federal government is exclusively produced in Quebec with ACTRA and UDA (Union des artistes) members.
Monica Granados, press secretary for the Treasury Board of Canada, which overseesfederal government expenditures, said by email that its office met with ACTRA and would not comment further, other than to say the government is devoted to "a fair and balanced approach to labour relations."
ACTRA represents more than 28,000 members across the country, 9,000 of them commercial actors.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.
Noel Ransome, The Canadian Press