Cossette goes it alone, ends labour fight with ACTRA

The first major break in a nearly year-long labour dispute between ad agencies represented by the ICA and the union representing English-speaking commercial acting talent came unexpectedly, on a day most of the industry was shut down for the Easter holiday.

Cossette and ACTRA issued a joint statement Friday announcing that the agency had “voluntarily signed a letter of continuance” for the rest of 2023. The statement referred to the agreement between ACTRA and Cossette that has been in place in Quebec since June 2022 “in accordance with Québec law. The letter of continuance now covers the rest of Canada.”

In June 2022, the Quebec agency association A2C signed on to the one-year extension between the Association of Canadian Advertisers and ACTRA, which was finalized last May and was originally slated to expire next month. It’s not clear what happens when that one-year extension expires. Both Cossette and ACTRA declined to comment or answer any questions beyond the short release, and neither the ACA or A2C immediately respond to a request for comment about the expiring agreement.

The labour dispute began late last April. The ICA has represented employers in the negotiations with ACTRA for a National Commercial Agreement for decades, but when the two sides failed to reach a new agreement, the ICA believed the previous agreement expired and signatory agencies were no longer bound by it. However, the ACA signed the one-year extension, which ACTRA contends is a continuation of the previous contract and therefore binding.

Cossette was one of nine agencies named along with the ICA in a formal complaint by ACTRA to the Ontario Labour Relations Board last May, a process which is ongoing. The other agencies named in that complaint were: Sid Lee, Juniper Park\TBWA, Leo Burnett, Taxi, John St. Ogilvy, McCann, and Wunderman Thompson.

While talks between the ICA and ACTRA resumed early this year, the ICA said it is still waiting for a response to its latest proposal in early February.

Cossette’s decision to break away from the other agencies and sign a letter of continuance was “a business one,” said Scott Knox, president and CEO of the Institute of Canadian Agencies.

Aside from not being able to work with ACTRA talent since last April, Cossette has also been a notable target for protests and other pressure tactics.

In February, The Globe and Mail ran a lengthy article based on ACTRA’s demand that the Federal Government stop working with Cossette while the dispute was ongoing. Then, late last month, ACTRA called for a boycott of six large advertisers for working with agencies that were part of the dispute, including two key Cossette clients: Walmart and McDonalds.

Cossette was also the location of two ACTRA protests—one in Toronto and one in Vancouver. However, the joint announcement was devoid of any rhetoric or quotes from either side. “ACTRA appreciates the longstanding relationship with Cossette, and looks forward to continuing to work towards building some of Canada’s biggest brands,” it said.

And Cossette said it is “keenly watching the ongoing OLRB proceedings, and looks forward to working alongside other agencies to negotiate a fair and meaningful resolution for the industry as a whole.

“All the other agencies involved in this dispute remain focused on achieving fair and equitable access to ACTRA talent through the creation of a new and modernized National Commercial Agreement (NCA),” said Knox in a statement to The Message.

“We understand from Cossette that they fully support this ultimate objective. We look forward to receiving a response to the proposal made to the union on February 10, and working together to build an agreement that supports all union performers and agencies.

David Brown