Less than a month after sending an “urgent memo” on the matter to its 160,000-plus members around the country, the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists announced today that it has formally “filed charges” against Grey Worldwide with the National Labor Relations Board.
In April, a memo shared publicly and internally with everyone on the SAG-AFTRA mailing list called upon members to “provide us details” regarding Grey and “23 Townhouse (a.k.a. Townhouse 23).” The group insinuated that Grey went with the production company in order to avoid union requirements in the interest of reducing the costs of its campaigns.
Now the complaint is official. Today’s email in full:
Because Grey Global Group failed to cooperate with our investigation of its possible production of non-union commercials through a front company, SAG-AFTRA filed charges today with the National Labor Relations Board. As a SAG-AFTRA member, we wanted you to know as soon as we took action. The NLRB will review these charges and determine if Grey Global is guilty as charged.
The possible connection between signatory ad agency Grey Global and 23 Townhouse (aka Townhouse 23) triggered our investigation of the potential use of 23 Townhouse as a front company for producing non-union commercials. The charges come after SAG-AFTRA formally requested information and documentation from Grey Global regarding its relationship to 23 Townhouse. We alerted you to this action on April 28.
The member response to that alert has been overwhelming. We’ve received information about Grey Global, 23 Townhouse and other signatory ad agencies. Because the investigation is ongoing, we still need your help. If you or anyone you know has worked on a 23 Townhouse production, tell us about it by clicking here.
Be on the lookout for any information about Grey Global and 23 Townhouse while on set. If you see anything of interest – including information about other signatory ad agencies producing non-union commercials – contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A union staff member will follow up with you. Any information provided is confidential.
Note that this message and the complaint filed with the NLRB only directly accuses the Grey network of failing to cooperate with the investigation.
The group has been public with the announcement, posting a press release on Twitter and Facebook while using its #AdsGoUnion and #NoGreyArea hashtags. At this time it does not appear to have purchased sponsored posts on Instagram or repeatedly tweeted at the agency in question as it did before staging a protest stunt at Droga5’s downtown Manhattan headquarters in January.
For context, SAG-AFTRA and the advertising industry (as represented by ANA and the 4A’s) recently came to a tentative agreement regarding actors cast in commercial work. Specifically, this arrangement was created in the interest of ensuring fair pay and work opportunities for union actors just as more clients move toward reducing production costs by taking more work in-house and employing social media influencers rather than professionally trained actors in their ads.
When news of the accusations against Grey first went public, the agency’s legal counsel told us that SAG-AFTRA had not, contrary to its claims, reached out to the agency before alerting members about its ongoing investigation. In response to the letter, a spokesperson for Grey’s legal team wrote, “Grey is a long-standing signatory of SAG. We have had a very positive and productive relationship with them. We believe that there is no merit to their contentions.”
Today a Grey spokesperson assures us that the network will respond to SAG-AFTRA’s filing.