An administrative law judge has ruled in favor of SAG-AFTRA in its fight against BBH over the Publicis Groupe agency's decision to end its nearly 20-year relationship with the national board of actors union. Subject to final approval by the National Labor Relations Board, BBH will be forced to sign newly-negotiated commercials contracts with the union.
This would seem to put an end a 10-month SAG-AFTRA strike against the agency.
"Our goal from the start was to produce high-level, cutting-edge creative work for our clients on a level playing field in a fast-evolving industry," BBH New York Managing Director Brett Edgar said in a statement. "We lost the battle, and will respect the ruling and move on. We thank our clients for their unrelenting support throughout this process."
Both SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and National Executive Director David White expressed in statements how "pleased" they are to have BBH back in contract.
"Since the inception of our relationship nearly 20 years ago, we have partnered effectively to provide the best talent in the world to BBH clients while ensuring fair compensation and safe working conditions for SAG-AFTRA members," Carteris said. "Now, with our new 2019 Commercials Contracts we are thrilled that BBH can take full advantage of the transformative compensation models in this groundbreaking agreement to better compete in the constantly evolving advertising industry."
Under the negotiations, BBH must again produce all of its commercials under SAG-AFTRA contracts, which provide union wages and pension and health contributions to its performers. SAG-AFTRA members will once again be able to accept work from BBH.
The tensions date to November 2017, when BBH notified SAG-AFTRA of its intent to exit its contract, arguing that the agreement was outdated and does not meet the needs of a digital-first world where non-union performers like social media stars can make outperforming content. The agency noted at the time that "many of our peer agencies are not signatories, making it hard to compete sustainably in a way that benefits our clients."
Agencies including Droga5, 360i, 72andSunny, R/GA and Anomaly have never been a signatory of the union. The union went after Accenture Interactive-owned Droga5 in 2015, accusing the agency of exploiting talent.
SAG-AFTRA then filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board and voted unanimously to authorize a strike against BBH. The union told members not to work for the agency, which employs on-air talent in its work for clients including Sony, Amazon, Google and Netflix. Among the complaints, SAG-AFTRA accused BBH of paying as little as $150 to union members who auditioned with a live bear, according to a Variety report.
The strike culminated in a protest last year at BBH's office on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles with hundreds of SAG/AFTRA actors showing up to rally against the agency.