ICA and ACTRA mediation fails; next meeting scheduled for October

Any hope for a near-term resolution to the labour dispute between Canada’s biggest ad agencies and ACTRA were dashed yesterday afternoon, in a meeting with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

The meeting with an OLRB-appointed mediator arose out of the union’s mid-May complaint against the Institute of Canadian Agencies and nine agencies, claiming that during April negotiations for a new National Commercial Agreement, the ICA bargained in bad faith by insisting it be able to opt out of the NCA and use non-union performers for some projects.

The nine agencies named in the ACTRA complaint were Cossette, John St., Juniper Park\TBWA, Leo Burnett, McCann, Ogilvy & Mather, Sid Lee, Taxi, and Wunderman Thompson.

ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) issued a release Wednesday morning saying it was disappointed in the ICA’s approach to the meeting.

“I am, and our union is, disappointed that the ICA and the agencies didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to actually sit down afresh with a mediator, who’s a neutral, to look at problem solving,” said Marie Kelly, ACTRA national executive director.

While declining to comment on the meeting, the ICA’s Scott Knox said a next step won’t be taken until Oct. 12., when, among other things, the OLRB will decide if it has jurisdiction in the dispute. The ICA believes it does not (more below).

The divide between the two sides that derailed the session Tuesday remains the opt-in / opt-out issue. The ICA won’t talk unless it’s on the table, and ACTRA won’t talk unless it’s off the table.

“As I understand, it was a precondition [of the ICA] to the discussion,” said Kelly. “We would have had to have agreed to a precondition that that remains as an option.”

 When talks between ACTRA and the ICA broke down over the issue in late April, ACTRA signed a new NCA with the Association of Canadian Advertisers, which they say is binding for all previous signatory agencies.

However, the ICA says that without its support, the new NCA is not valid, and the previous NCA has expired, meaning its agencies are not bound by the agreement and can work with non-union acting talent for commercial productions.

The result is that 14 of Canada’s biggest agencies, up from the original nine, now can’t use ACTRA talent for any of their commercial productions: ACTRA says this is lockout, while ICA says it is a strike. (Read our explainer from the start of the dispute here,)

Beyond that, while ACTRA and the ACA contend the NCA is a collective agreement binding performers and signatory agencies, and therefore something over which the OLRB has jurisdiction, the ICA says it is a commercial agreement and not a collective agreement, and therefore the OLRB does not have jurisdiction.

If the OLRB concludes it does have jurisdiction in October, hearings over the dispute would follow that, meaning it could be late 2022 before there is any resolution, unless the two sides can reach some kind of breakthrough on their own—though the two sides appear to be very far apart.

“They’re challenging a fundamental pillar of the entire Canadian labour relations system in suggesting that you can have a collective agreement only when you choose to do so, and disregard it when you don’t,” said Kellie. “Good luck at the Labor Board and challenging that principle.”

David Brown