ACTRA This article is more than 11 months old

Thousands of Canadian Commercial Actors Have Been Locked Out of Work For Over A Year

The union says advertising agencies are engaging in union busting.

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28,000 commercial workers in Canada have been locked out from commercial acting gigs for over a year, the union representing Canadian actors and radio artists says.

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) has been looking to renew their agreement with the Institute of Canadian Agencies (ICA) for over a year, during which they say actors have been locked out from work opportunities while the ICA has been hiring non-union actors for less pay and poorer working conditions.

The union has accused the ICA of bad faith bargaining and union busting.

“The ICA wanted us to agree to an opt-in and opt-out option which meant that they wanted to be able to work with union members when they wanted as they saw fit and non unions when they wanted and of course as a union we would never agree to something like that,” said Eleanor Noble, President of ACTRA told PressProgress.

“We would like to get back to work and continue the partnership that we’ve had for 60 years plus.”

Meanwhile, the ICA says they have not locked ACTRA members out, and that ACTRA has instead blocked access to its members.

Scott Knox, the President & CEO of the ICA says that a loophole in the National Commercial Agreement is to blame—not the ICA for not signing on to ACTRA’s letter of continuance.

“Over the 15 years that this loophole has been available, work has moved from union performers to non-union performers, following the lower costs. In turn, this has grown the quality of the non-union talent pool as performers followed the work,” Knox told PressProgress.

“The ICA and its member agencies value and respect ACTRA performers and, as ACTRA knows, remain open to negotiating a fair and equitable NCA, one that all parties agree needs to be created.”

The parties are currently negotiating a new agreement, but the union says the ICA has been using non-union labour throughout the lockout.

“It’s not like as a union member that you can just, you can’t just go okay, well, I’ll go work off the card, the agreements in place, you’re a union member, you can’t take work, that’s non-union,” said Kate Ziegler, an ACTRA member and long time voice actor.

Kate was a full time voice actor for years before the lockout and says that she has lost all of her steady income as a result—including multiple national campaigns.

Kate is a member of RCAP, the Rank and File Caucus of Actors and Performers, which was built as a way to give a voice to members of the union.

“I think the public needs to understand that the cultural sector of the country is under serious threat,” Ziegler said.

“We are the laborers who create the commodity of culture, of film and television, of movies, and commercial work is a huge part of what makes the media machine move and makes content.”

Ziegler adds that because they are a group of gig workers, they are at an increased risk of disparate working conditions.

“We’re a gig workers union. And there are other unions in the country made up of dependent contractors that go out and do these jobs.”  Ziegler said.

“I think this could have reverberations across the country.”

Kaylah Zander-Nunez has been a commercial actor for four years and said that she was making a steady income before the lockout. 

“A lot of people lost their incomes overnight,” Nunez told PressProgress.

“Just because it is gig work doesn’t mean it’s not my career.”

Nunez adds that corporations benefit from the free labour that many actors do that could be protected within a union environment.

“That collective agreement protects these companies from doing whatever they want

When you do a union commercial, the union will keep track of how much that commercial has aired and where it’s aired,” said Nunez.

Nunez adds anti-scab legislation could have played a role in ending the lockout. 

“I really want the people to pressure the feds to move on the anti-scab legislation. It could have ended this lockout months ago,” Nunez said.

Ziegler adds that the latest contract proposals include options for residual concessions that have left some members feeling confused and discouraged.

“We’ve been locked out for a year and holding the line, with the price of everything from groceries to rent and mortgages skyrocketing.”

Ziegler says that the current deal on the table gives employers— agencies and brands—the upper hand.

“The tentative agreement extends the NCA for another year but it also offers bundled residual rates that reduce our minimum pay. And it doesn’t end the lockout,” Ziegler said.

“At a time when union members across North America are seeing the labour movement gaining new ground and taking a stand, there is a growing number of ACTRA members who want to fight, too, in complete solidarity with our union. As labour leaders are saying around the world: ‘Enough is enough.’”


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Rumneek Johal
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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