ACTRA and ACA tentatively reach a new commercial agreement

The ICA will no longer be a co-administrator as the remaining parties look to modernize the NCA to better meet the needs of the industry.
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The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) has reached a new National Commercial Agreement (NCA) with the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA), while the Institute of Canadian Agencies (ICA) will no longer be a co-administrator.

ACTRA is the union representing over 28,000 English-language performers in TV, film, radio and digital media in Canada. The NCA is a collective agreement that lays out how advertisers and agencies are to engage its members for commercial work.

Though the one-year agreement is still subject to approval from ACTRA members and the ACA’s board, negotiators for both parties will be recommending ratification.

Exact details about the deal will not be publicly disclosed until it is voted on and ratified, so neither organization was able to provide more information about new provisions in the deal or how it differs from the previous NCA, beyond what ACA president and CEO Ron Lund described as a “modest” pay increase, which ACTRA members have been without for roughly two years.

The one year agreement is shorter than the usual term length, but the time and pay increase are meant to offer stability while ACTRA and the ACA establish a more long-term NCA that is both modernized and simplified, something Lund says they realized was needed over the course of negotiations.

“We need some time to sit down and effectively work together,” says Marie Kelly, national executive director of ACTRA. “It’s not just about this one agreement, but what we will do together in the future that reflects the changing industry that we’re in.”

Lund says the path forward will be informed, at least in part, by the new commercial agreement from the Screen Actors’ Guild in the United States.

Earlier this month, SAG-AFTRA’s board approved its new tentative commercial contracts. One of the key elements that agreement introduced was flat fee, per-cycle rates across different media channels, intended to make the contract easier to use for employers and help performers track payments and confirm that they are correct. Other provisions include new rules for remote and virtual auditions, banning the use of rapidly improving “digital double” technology to avoid contract terms and new standards for diversity and inclusion.

Though he didn’t say which elements of the SAG-AFTRA agreement the groups would be trying to emulate, Lund did reference the length of the previous NCA, which was over 230 pages long.

In this day and age, when people are nimble and agile in their work, we need an agreement that mirrors the needs of the industry,” Lund says.

The previous NCA was signed in 2017. ACTRA, the ICA and ACA all agreed to extend the agreement by a year when it expired in 2020, with negotiations for a new deal beginning last May.

Which brings up the other big difference in the new agreement: the ICA will not be involved as a co-administrator with the ACA. The joint release announcing the new NCA said that, under its current CEO, the ICA was seeking terms that were not acceptable to either the ACA or to ACTRA.

In its own statement Tuesday, the ICA said that when a mediator reported an impasse that could not be resolved at the April 26 deadline, the NCA expired and is now no longer in effect.

“Even so, our industry wishes to continue to employ ACTRA performers if possible and will offer rates and terms that are feasible in
accordance with client contracts,” the statement read.

Both the ACA and ACTRA say that is not their position.

Eleanor Noble, president of ACTRA National, says the ICA “left the table.” Regardless of the ICA’s statement, the new agreement has indeed been reached and, as part of that, the previous one remains in effect at least until the ratification vote is held.

Any company looking to engage ACTRA members must sign on to and abide by the terms of the agreement, regardless of which association they are a member of, or even if they don’t hold a membership at all. During negotiations, the ACA and ICA’s administrator roles are meant to represent not just the concerns of their members, but also the interests of the broader marketing and advertising industry.

“It would have been great for [the ICA] to be at the table, but they’re not,” Lund says. “We moved on, we were given [ICA CEO Scott Knox]’s blessing to speak directly instead, so we did that to see what we could do. We knew where the agreement had to go, we found common ground and we acted on it.”

On Tuesday afternoon, strategy asked Knox about whether the organization’s position about the NCA not being in effect has changed, what terms it was seeking during negotiations and if it was offering any guidance to members when it came to engaging unionized performers or acknowledging the terms of the NCA. Knox said he could not provide further details by press time Wednesday morning and referred strategy back to the ICA’s original statement.

Lund, Noble and Kelly also did not comment on what terms the ICA was seeking.

The ICA’s 80-plus members include both independent and network agencies working in creative, media, design and digital. But Kelly says that during the duration of the previous NCA, less than half of ACTRA’s commercial work came from ICA members, showing that many other agencies and other kinds of companies sign on to the NCA.

After ratification, the focus between ACTRA and ACA will shift towards the modernization work they have set before them. One key element Lund says that process will include is a “big tent” framework. While Lund is not yet sure exactly what that will entail, he says it will be commited to ensuring everyone has a spot at the table.

“There needs to be a spot for everyone, regardless if they are an ACA member or ICA member or not a member of anything,” Lund says. “Over the years, we’ve had feedback that the ACA or ICA doesn’t really speak for everyone, and that’s true. We sometimes do polls and talk to producers and things like that, but we want to make that a common practice. There are also more than just agencies that employ ACTRA performers, and they have a right to be at the table as well.”

The ACA’s 86 members include many of Canada’s biggest advertisers, such as Unilever, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Molson Coors, Labatt, McDonald’s, OLG, The Dairy Farmers of Canada and Ontario, four of the Big Five banks and the governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec.

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