SAG asks to meet with AMPTP

Sides have not met formally since June 30

SAG's leaders sent a letter Monday to the AMPTP's Nick Counter, Fox president Peter Chernin and Disney president Bob Iger urging a return to the bargaining table.

SAG national executive director Doug Allen and president Alan Rosenberg wrote: "We believe it is clear that our members would fail to ratify your proposal of June 30, 2008.

"It would serve no productive purpose, therefore, to send our membership a proposal that SAG's National Negotiating Committee and National Board have rejected and that our membership would not ratify."

Formal talks between the two sides ended June 30 when the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers made a final offer to SAG.

Neither Iger nor Chernin responded, but in a letter from Counter on Monday night, the AMPTP rejected the overture.

"We do not believe that it would be productive to resume negotiations at this time," Counter said, "given SAG's continued insistence on terms which the companies have repeatedly rejected."

Counter's letter repeated the AMPTP's bargaining mantra -- that the offer to SAG mirrors those agreed to by AFTRA, the DGA and the WGA. Additionally, Counter implied that the offer's terms could be lessened or rescinded, saying he hoped SAG's leaders "will accept our final offer while it remains on the table."

The AMPTP has said previously that its final offer will remain on the table as long as there is no drastic change in the industry's economy, a less-solid position given the recent Wall Street bloodbath.

Wrote Allen and Rosenberg: "The alternative to reaching an agreement as soon as possible is unnecessary and destructive uncertainty. If your intransigence continues, however, our choices become harder and fewer. We would prefer the more complicated and productive choices that compromise will make necessary. But we can't make those choices that lead to agreement working alone."

They concluded the letter posing the question, "What do you say; when can our committees meet face to face?"

According to Allen and Rosenberg, three issues stand in the way of inking a deal between the studios and actors. One issue is force majeure protection for actors that has been a part of the contract for decades. The other two are complete jurisdiction over new-media productions and residuals for made-for-new-media productions re-used on new media.

Although there is no mention of it in SAG's letter, the position that SAG's members would not ratify the contract is likely based on a recent poll of its members. Eighty-seven% of those who returned the postcard ballots earlier this month said that SAG leaders should continue negotiating rather than accept the studios' final offer.

However, fewer than 10% of the paid-up SAG members who were mailed the ballot, which included a 14-page update on the current contract talks, responded. The AMPTP called the poll mailing a "farce" and said the questions were crafted for SAG negotiators to hear what they want to hear.

Two days after the poll results, about 25% of SAG's membership voted in a new executive board that includes members of a guild faction that promised change in the current state of the union, including the stalemate in negotiations and its relationship with sister union AFTRA.