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SAG Pushes for Consolidation

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When Melissa Gilbert, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) national president, ran for re-election earlier this year, she vowed to continue efforts at merging with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

To help that attempt along following the beginning of her second term, the AFL-CIO agreed to pay for a SAG member survey to check the actors' heartbeat on the issue. No need to survey AFTRA members, really. In the election to consolidate the two unions this summer, AFTRA faithful had voted 75% in favor of consolidation with SAG; but a 60% yes vote from each union was required, and only 58% of SAG voters favored the merger, falling 2% short.

Gilbert and her supporters obviously hoped a new survey would show SAG members favoring the merger in greater numbers. And they got what they hoped for.

A telephone poll of 800 SAG members conducted between Oct. 31 and Nov. 5 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates showed 79% of those surveyed favoring "continued efforts to combine the unions," according to a news release from SAG. The union statement noted that 65% said that "they would like the leadership to reach agreement with AFTRA on a modified plan that addresses the concerns of members who voted no on consolidation. Fourteen percent said to continue trying to pass the consolidation plan voted on in referendum, 19% said stop efforts to consolidate, and 2% were not sure."

That opinion by 65% of those polled is the vital one for Gilbert and her cohorts. How the Gilbert forces address those "concerns of members who voted no" will probably determine if a new merger effort can garner the required 60% to pass.

Interestingly, while 79% of those surveyed favor continued efforts to meld, only 61% favor consolidation, the statement said, with 17% somewhat unfavorable, 16% very unfavorable, and 6% not sure.

So it appears that members are telling the SAG administration that they heavily favor uniting with AFTRA, but less so under the earlier consolidation proposal.

Can't Get No Satisfaction?

The survey also showed that only 35% of those polled were "very satisfied" or "fairly satisfied" with the industry situation today, with 61% "somewhat satisfied" or "not really satisfied at all."

As for top priorities, members earning more than $7,500 per year listed their top concern as negotiating health insurance benefits, while those making less than $7,500 cited the need for increased employment opportunities.

Gilbert responded to the survey by saying, "This is the first of many steps designed to take a pulse on what SAG members want to see in a new consolidation plan with AFTRA. I am gratified to see that the survey results confirm that our members want us to continue to find a way to bring these unions together in unity and strength. We all know we all need more jobs, acceptable wages and benefits for our families, but we need to dig deeper to find ways that we can deliver solutions to those issues in the context of a plan that is responsive to our members. Face-to-face focus groups are underway in Los Angeles, and we should have some very clear messages from the rank and file as to how to proceed. I am determined to serve the interests of all 118,000 members of Screen Actors Guild."

SAG will present the polling results to its national board at its January meeting.

Just who is Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which conducted the poll? According to its website, it's a 27-year-old firm that has "conducted well over 5,000 public opinion surveys and has administered and analyzed interviews among more than two and a half million individuals in that time. Hart Research also has undertaken nearly 2,000 focus group sessions."

Since 1989, Hart has conducted public opinion surveys for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. It also ran polls for Time Warner's first corporate TV advertising campaign.

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