ACTRA targets six marketers with calls for boycott

ACTRA has seemingly set its sights on new targets in its nearly year-long labour dispute with the ad industry, calling for a boycott of six well-known Canadian brands.

The new tactic was revealed in a Friday release that identified six “scabvertisers” and called for consumers to “take their business elsewhere.”

“Enough is enough,” said ACTRA national president Eleanor Noble in the release. “Nearly a year ago, several ad agencies decided to lock out union performers after 60 years of success working under the National Commercial Agreement. ACTRA is launching a national consumer boycott of unionbusting brands that put profits over people.”

The six brands are Canadian Tire, M&M Food Market, McDonald’s, Rogers, Walmart, and H&R Block. The union did not respond to requests from The Message for further comment or explain why those six were specifically chosen. However it’s almost certainly because of the ad agencies they work with.

While the genesis of the labour dispute was a decision by the Institute of Canadian Agencies not to sign a new National Commercial Agreement last March, ACTRA has taken action against a handful of agencies since then, and nine agencies—Cossette, John St., Juniper Park\TBWA, Leo Burnett, McCann, Ogilvy & Mather, Sid Lee, Taxi, and Wunderman Thompson—were named in a formal complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. They’ve also been the target of protests outside their offices (top photo), and Cossette in particular has attracted special attention for its work with the Federal Government.

Since the two sides were unable to sign a new NCA last year, the union signed a one-year extension with the Association of Canadian Advertisers. That deal was not binding on ACA members, but ACTRA claims it did cover all agencies that had been signatories to the previous agreement. The ICA, however, categorically disagreed with that interpretation. Since then the two sides have been locked in a stalemate: ICA says ACTRA is on strike, and ACTRA says the ICA and signatory agencies have locked out ACTRA talent. (Read our in-depth explainer of the dispute here.)

However, the two sides had resumed negotiations in recent weeks, and in a statement late Friday afternoon, the ICA said the calls for a boycott were an attempt to “derail negotiations.”

“The ICA put forward proposals in February to create a new solution for the industry, but ACTRA has not yet provided a meaningful response,” said the statement. “In the place of constructive dialogue, ACTRA has escalated a pressure campaign designed to reimpose the old terms in the expired NCA in contradiction of ACTRA’s own pledge one year ago to create a modernized NCA by May 2023.”

The call for a boycott is also notable because some of those on the list are members of the ACA. In an emailed statement, Ron Lund, CEO of the association, said “we are disappointed by ACTRA’s divisive and disruptive action as industry attempts to work with ACTRA toward a simplified, modernized and competitive agreement.”

In an apparent effort to put the dispute into the national political spotlight, ACTRA has also called out the Federal Government for working with Cossette, launching a campaign demanding it end its contractual arrangement with Cossette Media.

“At a time when the government says it wants to protect precarious workers, it keeps paying an anti-union agency, prolonging this lockout,” said Marie Kelly, ACTRA national executive director and lead negotiator. “While Cossette is raking in profits, performers and their families are suffering. This union-busting attack on Canada’s unionized performers is shameful.”

Asked for a comment, Cossette said it would “continue to negotiate with ACTRA in good faith with the hope of a prompt and positive consensus for all. We also continue to put our trust in the ICA to reach an agreement on behalf of the entire marketing communications industry.”

However, the ICA addressed the Cossette issue in its statement, pointing out that its work for the Federal Government is done through its Quebec offices, using union talent. “ACTRA claims to be advocating for its members but its attacks on Cossette for work done with the Federal Government are a clear example of the misinformation ACTRA promotes,” it said. The Quebec agency association, Association of Creative Communications Agencies, or A2C, signed the one-year extension agreement last June.

“Cossette is a member of A2C in Quebec. In short, Cossette’s Federal Government work is exclusively produced in Québec with ACTRA and UDA members,” said the ICA. “At a time when talented performers are losing work because they are forbidden by ACTRA from working with ICA agencies, it makes no sense that ACTRA now feels it needs to take the additional step of threatening work being performed by its own union members.

David Brown