Celebrity pitchman

Tiger Woods

makes more per swing on the golf course than journeyman commercial actor Dave Gibson makes in a year. Yet both men are on strike against a common enemy: the advertising industry.

Woods and Gibson are part of a militant unionized actors coalition making a stand against what it calls sheer greed by advertising companies that want to share less of their profits. The walkout began May 1 and looks increasingly like it will last for weeks or even months.

Woods, whose wealth is ranked by

Forbes

as more than $28 million, turned his back on the advertising industry by canceling an appearance in a commercial for

Nike

(NKE) - Get Report

that had been scheduled for May 2.

"By withholding his services to commercial producers at this time, he is standing together with the thousands of working-class

Screen Actors Guild

and

American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

performers who depend on a fair commercials contract to maintain a decent standard of life," said Greg Krizman, a spokesperson for SAG.

Gibson, who has done ads for products like Jell-O no-bake cheesecake, refuses to even audition for any more commercials during the strike because he believes so strongly in the necessity of expanding the payment pie. "I did a commercial that ran 250 times in a 13-week cycle. Every 13 weeks, I would get $8,000 to $10,000. Now the advertisers are offering $2,500 for a 13-week cycle," explained Gibson.

With a total membership of 135,000, the combined SAG and AFTRA is 35% bigger than 12 years ago, the last time actors went on strike against the advertising industry. Strike leaders are also more intent on winning greater concessions this time.

The previous strike by commercial actors lasted for three weeks in March and April 1988 and focused on establishing payment guidelines for cable television, then in its infancy, and maintaining existing guidelines for network commercials. That strike was ratified by both unions and deemed a successful one, according to John Sucke, the New York executive director of SAG. Since then, contracts have been negotiated every three years, with relatively little upheaval. But "this time we are wider apart," said Krizman.

At issue is the pay-per-play formula long used for paying actors in network commercials, where performers are recompensed based on how many times a commercial airs in an advertising cycle. The advertisers, represented by the

Association of National Advertisers

and the

American Association of Advertising Agencies

, want to scrap that formula and institute a fixed-fee formula, where actors are paid one rate for each commercial, no matter how many times it airs.

Far from scrapping that formula, the actors say the advertising industry, which has benefited enormously from the vibrant U.S. economy, should be more generous, not less. The unions seek to extend the pay-per-play formula to commercials on cable television, to devise a payment structure for commercials that appear on the Internet, and to create a system to monitor the use and frequency of television and radio commercials.

Both unions have moved to mobilize their memberships since the last commercial contract was negotiated, after some contention, in 1997, culminating in the November 1999 election of a SAG leadership ripe for agitation.

"There was a fair degree of membership dissatisfaction with that contract," Krizman said, referring to the 1997 negotiations. "The seeds of this have been brewing for three years." Sucke said payment for cable was the source of dissent last time, with a "quite loud and insistent" minority insisting that the fixed-fee for cable should have been even higher than negotiated.

In the election, William Daniels, the two-time Emmy Award winner for his turn as Dr. Mark Craig on the classic television drama

St. Elsewhere

, garnered 47.5% of the vote to upset the incumbent, character actor Richard Masur, for the two-year presidency of SAG. The election was an acrimonious one, with Daniels vowing to take a harder line with the advertising industry and calling the existing leadership "pussycats."

"I went for cover when I heard that," said John McGuinn of law firm

Schmeltzer, Aptaker & Shepard

, who is the chief negotiator for the joint professional committee of the advertising and advertising agency bodies. Involved with entertainment-related negotiations since 1976, McGuinn characterized the guild leadership in 1988, under the presidency then of Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress Patty Duke, as "more moderate. It's harder to get my message across to them now."

Another person close to the negotiations on the advertisers' side said the strikers are "harder to deal with now because they have such strong stands. Those stands are creating resolution among the advertisers as well."

Strike leaders say the level of union solidarity and awareness over what's at stake has been building in the weeks leading up to the strike.

"I am absolutely certain that we are better educated than we have been," Krizman said. "The members know what we're proposing and what the advertisers are proposing."