ACTRA and ICA going back to the table

The new year is beginning with some new hope for a resolution to the rancorous commercial actors labour dispute that has dragged into a ninth month.

After months of angry rhetoric and no outward signs of progress, both the Institute of Canadian Agencies and ACTRA, the union representing most of Canada’s actors, unexpectedly notified members that the two sides would return to the bargaining table next week to try and negotiate a new National Commercial Agreement.

“We are pleased to confirm the ICA will resume bargaining with ACTRA in a good faith attempt to resolve our dispute over access to Canadian performing talent,” wrote ICA president and CEO Scott Knox. “It is always good news when parties in dispute resume talks in hopes of resolving their issues, and the ICA welcomes this development.”

“We are very pleased to report that nine months into this labour dispute, the Institute of Canadian Agencies (ICA), associated agencies, and ACTRA have agreed to return to the bargaining table during the second week in January,” said ACTRA in a letter to its members. “We know it’s not been easy and we have not yet won the respect you deserve. But without you, we wouldn’t be about to resume bargaining. Thank you for your strength and solidarity.”

The dispute broke into the open in late April, when negotiations on a new NCA fell apart and ACTRA signed a deal with the Association of Canadian Advertisers instead. (See our “ACTRA vs. ICA” landing page here for all of our coverage.) Since then, the two sides have appeared very far apart. Previous attempts at mediation ended badly, and ACTRA formally accused the ICA and nine agencies of unfair labour practices before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. That case is still ongoing, with hearings set for March.

The key sticking point between the two sides has been the ICA’s demand that agencies signing onto the new agreement be able to opt in and opt out of the NCA—using ACTRA talent for some projects, but not all. The ICA has said that agencies not bound by the NCA have been able to do so by working with third-party providers like payroll companies, and therefore have had an unfair advantage over signatory agencies since they have access to cheaper, non-ACTRA talent for some projects.

ACTRA, however, has said that the ICA’s demand to be able to choose when agencies can adhere to a contract—and when not—amounts to an attempt to break the union, accusing the association of bargaining in bad faith.

While neither side would comment on what, if anything, has changed that led them back to the table, the contract extension signed between the ACA and ACTRA was only for one year, and is set to expire June 1. In an email to The Message, Knox said that “the ICA and ACTRA agreed to return to negotiations with neither side imposing pre-conditions.”

“ACTRA will of course bargain in good faith with the goal of all performers returning to work, earning living wages, with benefits and pension contributions,” said the ACTRA letter.

David Brown