ACA ratifies new agreement with ACTRA

*This story has been updated to include new comments from the ACA and ICA. 

The Association of Canadian Advertisers has moved quickly to ratify a new one-year commercial agreement with ACTRA, the union representing 28,000 Canadian actors.

The ACA confirmed on Tuesday that its board of directors has approved the deal, which was announced last Tuesday. However, the new deal has resulted in some confusion because Canada’s largest agency association, the Institute of Canadian Agencies, did not agree to it. (Read our full story here.)

For decades, the National Commercial Agreement—covering everything from rates to usage rights and working conditions—has been a tripartite agreement between ACTRA, the ACA and the ICA. However, the ICA and ACA split in the third week of April. ICA continued to negotiate with ACTRA on its own ahead of a mediator-established deadline of 12:01 a.m. on April 26.** When that deadline passed without a deal, the ACA and ACTRA concluded a deal on their own.

The parties now appear to be split into two camps, each with a very different opinion of where the industry stands today.

The ICA maintains this deal is not a renewal of the old agreement, but an entirely new agreement, and therefore previous signatories aren’t bound by it. In other words, advertising agencies which for years could only use ACTRA talent, are now free to use non-ACTRA talent.

“The old National Commercial Agreement (NCA) has expired in accordance with its own terms and conditions,” ICA’s CEO Scott Knox told The Message on Tuesday. “As such, even though this new agreement is called the NCA, it is not legally an extension of the old NCA.”

But both the ACA and ACTRA say that once ACTRA’s membership ratifies the deal—which it must do by the end of the month—a new, one-year deal will be in place. “The new 12-month agreement takes effect June 1, 2022. Nothing else changes in the agreement other than removing references of the ICA,” says the ACA statement.

The ACA’s CEO Ron Lund told The Message last week that they felt they had to sign the new deal to avoid any work stoppages, which seemed to be a looming possibility.

Talks had stalled over a key ICA demand that its members be able to “opt out” of using ACTRA talent in some cases, which signatories could not do.

Knox says ICA members and other signatories are at a disadvantage if their clients—who are not bound by the agreement—prefer to work with non-union talent. While signatories are bound to work with ACTRA talent only, non-signatories have had the option of working with non-union talent, while also being able to access ACTRA talent through third-party businesses. This is the core issue at the heart of the current impasse.

“We are disappointed that the ACA has entered into a new agreement with ACTRA that does not address the key concern of the agency members of the ICA,” said Knox when asked to comment on the ACA ratification.

“Clients, represented by the ACA, may use ACTRA members or go non-union, as their budgets and advertising objectives permit,” he added. “ICA members want to work with ACTRA members, but client requirements do not always make that possible given the terms and conditions of the old, outdated NCA.”

However, ACTRA said that giving in to the ICA’s demand to opt-out runs counter to one of the basic union expectations behind a collective agreement. “The fundamental core principles of any union collective agreement is that the work under that collective agreement goes to the membership of that union,” said Marie Kelly, ACTRA national executive director and lead negotiator. ACTRA also points that of the more than 200 signatories to the ICA, just 16 of them are ICA member agencies.

In Tuesday’s release, the ACA made it clear that a key goal behind the new deal with ACTRA was to provide stability for 12 months to continue working toward “modernizing and simplifying” the agreement.

“As we move forward over the coming months, it is critical to simplify and modernize this agreement, ensuring it is reflective and adaptable to ever-changing production and media models,” said Lund in the release, which went on to invite “the entire advertising agency community who use ACTRA performers to be a partner, including ICA member agencies.”

“ACA is a big tent organization, and we need the voices of the entire community, from across the country, to help shape this new agreement,” said Lund.

But Knox said the ICA wants a solution now. “We view vague promises to fix the NCA in the future as hollow words when real action is required,” he said.

The gap between the two sides has left many in the industry, from production companies and casting agents, to ACTRA members and agency heads, unsure of how advertising production goes forward without a resolution: What happens if an agency wants to work with non-ACTRA talent and ACTRA says the agency is not able to do so?

Asked if the ACA had reached out to the ICA leadership for discussion, Lund told The Message on Tuesday that he had not, but said that two ICA agencies had contacted him looking for information.

 Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

**This story has been updated to include a clarification about the events ahead of the negotiations deadline at 12:01 a.m. April 26. 

David Brown