Poll finds support for negotiations strategy

In a sign that the SAG stalemate with the majors will persist, an overwhelming number of SAG members responding to a guild survey have endorsed the current strategy of holding out for a better deal.

More than 87% of the 10,293 respondees backed SAG leaders, who have insisted that the guild must receive better terms than those in the final offer by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

Wednesday’s announcement of the results hardened positions on both sides. Even though the poll generated less than 10% response from the 103,630 dues-current members, SAG leaders trumpeted the numbers as a clear demonstration of strong rank-and-file support for the guild’s stay-tough stance.

In response, the AMPTP ridiculed SAG’s poll as “a farce.” The group insisted again that it’s not going to revise the final offer it made in June — and gave a strong hint that it may reduce the deal’s value should the economy continue to sour.

SAG national exec director Doug Allen said the response reflects the “resolve” that leaders have seen from members since negotiations started in April.

“The AMPTP suggested we send their June 30 offer to our members to ratify,” he said. “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.”

That’s unlikely, given the tenor of the AMPTP response.

“The questions were devised to give SAG negotiators only the answer they wanted to hear,” the AMPTP said. “The materials accompanying the postcard were hopelessly one-sided. SAG member votes were recorded by name, exposing those who opposed SAG negotiators to possible retribution. And some SAG members reportedly received multiple ballots. In short, this mass postcard mailing was another exercise in futility by SAG’s negotiators, and the results are meaningless.”

The guild’s previously dismissed concerns about confidentiality in the voting process. And most of the SAG material that was sent to members recaps and summarizes previous messages, which have stressed the inadequacy of the AMPTP’s final offer.

The newsletter highlighted the dissatisfaction with the final offer’s terms in new-media jurisdiction and residuals — which mirror the DGA, WGA and AFTRA deals — along with complaints about the companies’ proposals on force majeure, production integration and mileage reim-bursement. SAG’s insisted it must have jurisdiction on all new-media productions and residuals on made-for-new-media work.

The postcard poll does not constitute an official strike authorization, which would require 75% approval. The question on the postcard asked members whether SAG leaders should accept the offer or “fight” for a better deal.

In response to a question about whether SAG will now move ahead with a strike authorization, Allen told Daily Variety that the matter’s in the hands of the AMPTP for now. “What we do next will depend on the AMPTP’s response to this expression of our members’ view that we shouldn’t accept the current offer,” he added.

The poll results come a day before SAG concludes a heated election for its national board. The current panel is controlled by the Membership First faction, which has a narrow majority and has insisted that SAG needs to maintain its aggressive bargaining stance.

The Unite for Strength slate — which has blasted Membership First for mishandling the contract negotiations — would have to win six of the 11 Hollywood board seats that are up for election in order to gain control of the board room. If that happens, it’s likely that Allen and the negotiating committee would be told to stop holding out and make a deal as soon as possible.

SAG’s next scheduled national board meeting is set for Oct. 18.

The guild and the congloms still can’t agree on the current state of negotiations. SAG’s continued to insist that informal negotiations are continuing, including that assertion in the mailer; the AMPTP has denied that any talks are taking place and insisted it’s not revising the final offer, made as the feature-primetime contract expired.

The two sides last met in a formal meeting on July 16. The AMPTP noted Wednesday that SAG members continue to work under terms and conditions of the expired contract.

“We have made a fair offer, with significant gains in salary and new media,” the AMPTP said. “That offer remains on the table, for the time being, despite steadily deteriorating economic conditions. In the meantime, we and all of the other industry guilds have gone back to work, and SAG members continue to miss out on the benefits of a new contract.”

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