SAG poll: 87% want more talks

But response rate is only 10%; studios call mailing 'hopelessly one-sided'

With SAG and the AMPTP deadlocked on a new TV/theatrical contract, the actors union said Wednesday that 87% of its members who responded to its recent poll believe that leaders should continue negotiations and not accept the studios' final offer.

However, fewer than 10% of paid-up SAG members participated in the mail-in poll sent Aug. 28 as part of a 14-page update on the current contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

The AMPTP said the poll mailing was "a farce" and that questions were crafted for SAG negotiators to hear what they want to hear.

SAG's contract with the AMPTP expired June 30, the same day the studios made a final offer, which the union rejected. Since then, members have been working on an expired contract, with SAG leaders insisting that talks are continuing, albeit informally and behind closed doors. The AMPTP denies that any such talks are happening.

A total of 103,630 paid-up SAG members were sent the postcard poll, but only 10,298 returned the postcard. Of that number, 87% — or 8,987 members — checked a box next to an option stating, "Continue negotiating with the AMPTP to secure a fair TV/Theatrical contract for actors with better terms than the AMPTP's June 30th 'final offer.' "

The remaining 13% of respondents checked the box next to "Accept the AMPTP's June 30th 'final offer' without modification."

Doug Allen, SAG's national executive director and chief negotiator, said the purpose of the poll was to get an idea of what the members wanted.

"I am pleased that the response reflects the resolve we have seen from SAG members around the country throughout this negotiating process," Allen said. "The AMPTP suggested we send their June 30 offer to our members to ratify. These poll results indicate that was wishful thinking on their part. We will now urge the AMPTP to roll up their sleeves and to put in the hard work required to bargain a fair, equitable agreement as soon as possible."

The studios were not impressed.

"The materials accompanying the postcard were hopelessly one-sided," the AMPTP said. "SAG member votes were recorded by name, exposing those who opposed SAG negotiators to possible retribution. And some SAG members reportedly received multiple ballots."

The AMPTP added, "This mass postcard mailing was another exercise in futility by SAG's negotiators, and the results are meaningless."

SAG's president Alan Rosenberg disagreed, saying that the results show its members agree with the strategy of the negotiating committee and national board.

"This membership poll provides clear insight and direction concerning how actors feel about their futures," he said. "Clearly they expect the Screen Actors Guild to protect them from exploitation in new media and to preserve long-standing principles and contract provisions."

Entertainment labor attorney Scott Witlin said with the low response, the poll does not really reflect a rejection by union members of the AMPTP offer. He pointed out that the poll postcard included a bar code that identified each member who voted by name and region, which may have caused some members to not participate.

SAG has denied anything nefarious in including the bar code. But Witlin pointed out that if members actually were voting on whether to ratify the AMPTP's final offer, it would be anonymous.

The attorney, who has represented producers and talent, said the union would have had a better idea of what the membership wanted if they had just taken a ratification vote with a recommendation that they thought the deal was not good.

"Then they may have gotten 87% of the membership voting down the deal, and that would have put them in a better position than doing this push poll where they're tracking their members voting," Witlin said. "They haven't because they're afraid that with real rules and confidentiality, the membership would accept it. Instead, they created a sham, with less than 9,000 members voting to keep up the fight."
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