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Hiding Behind Bars?


Correction appended, Sept. 5

Another day, another eruption of SAG superfun.

If you’ve been following the board elections and contract negotiations (or lack thereof), you’ve probably already wandered over to the SAGWatch blog, where actors are looking at those polling cards  a little more closely.

Hey, what do you know? They are subscription cards for Us Weekly! Okay, not really, but there is something some guild members find more sinister: a bar code. Oh, what a difference 10 horizontal lines make.

An actor identified as “VoiceGuy” noticed this and allegedly had a quite a confab with Michelle Bennett, SAG’s national director of guild governance, about those little black bars. VoiceGuy says Bennett said the bar codes are there to record the names of actors who send them back, where those actors live, and how they vote. The problem--according to VoiceGuy and other actors I’ve been talking with all day--is in VG’s words :

“Each member’s vote will be tallied BY NAME. In other words, a record WILL be made of who voted yes and who voted no. This information will be available to ‘authorized staff members’ at SAG. It will not be made public (that’s the ‘confidentiality’ assurance from the flyer).”


So can Doug Allen, Alan Rosenberg, and my switchboard operator nemesis, get their hands on a list of who voted to support their heroic, stalwart negotiating committee and who voted to collapse like spineless French amoebas into the AMPTP’s lap? According to VG, Bennett said yes, they certainly could get that list. [LH note: Bennett actually said Rosenberg would not be able to access that info because he is a member of the guild--not a staffer. My bad. However, Ms. Switchboard could access the info if she was "authorized." It's unlikely, but the point is any "authorized staff member" could get this alleged list].

I’m not a big fan of secondhand info. I’d rather not add to the big ol’ “purple monkey dishwasher” game of Telephone that is the blogging world. I’d also have to start believing what theatre critic Wenzel Jones says people keep writing about me on the wall of Back Stage men’s room. You see my predicament.

And so, all day, I’ve been trying to get to the Truth like a real journalist. The polling card itself states, “This post card includes a unique bar code to ensure that only active members in good standing participate in this poll. The confidentiality of your response will be maintained.”

So far, there’s just a lot of opinions about what that statement means. Is it a promise that SAG cannot under any circumstances access the names of individual voters? Or is it an empty disclaimer meant to cover SAG’s collective butt?

Integrity Voting Systems, the company tabulating the poll for SAG, declined to comment. A SAG rep said the code is there to ensure that members can’t duplicate the cards and vote numerous times. The info about voters’ identities is kept by IVS. This is also, by the way, not an official election or ratification vote.

Membership First’s Anne-Marie Johnson said the same thing, adding, “This is nothing new. Obviously, this is not what we do during elections, but when we do polling, email polling, phone polling, this is exactly what we’ve done where we know who the member is and what division they live in and/or work from. This is how we get a geographical breakdown and earnings breakdown. We’ve done this a million times; it’s nothing new….

 “I don’t know what the controversy is…. Any member’s name is of no use to any board member or senior staff. When we’ve done this in the past, the senior staff have known the names, and it’s never been disclosed, it’s never been used. It’s useless information after the statistical information is gathered.”

What could SAG’s senior staff do with a list of those names anyway? Plant horse heads in the beds of those who didn’t vote the way SAG wanted? Draw mustaches and x out their eyes on their headshots, then mail them to every CD in town?

Steve Diamond, associate law professor, former candidate for SAG NED, and prolific blogger over at Vallywood, said it’s not about what SAG staff could or couldn’t do but why they need the info in the first place. He emailed, “It is not clear to me why SAG leaders need to identify how members voted by name, but contract ratification votes and strike authorization votes are traditionally done in secret. Thus, I think the membership here has a reasonable expectation of privacy which the guild should respect…. 

“I think there is understandable concern among members that if they vote against the current guild strategy it could lead to harassment or other forms of pressure that could affect the lives and possibly the careers of guild members. Even if the NED or others in SAG’s leadership knew the identities of those who voted no but did not abuse it, the threat would remain and that clearly casts a dark cloud over the meaningfulness of this ‘poll.’ ”

So are actors worried about the prospect of real “harassment or other forms of pressure” on SAG’s part, or is it more about the principle of the matter? Stay tuned. I’m canceling my sting operation of the Back Stage men’s room just to stay on top of this.

FYI: Expect a letter from pissed New York and regional branch division board members to “the Allens” about the bar code, to be followed by a letter back from annoyed Doug Allen. And they say the art of letter-writing is dead.

 --Lauren Horwitch

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What paranoia! What drivel!...Go get a cheap bar code reader at Radio Shack and read the damned bar code. What a non issue. Vote or don't vote. They need to protect against voter fraud or duplication. Perhaps all they need to determine you are a paid up member in good standing is your SAG membership ID number. Just think what information that would give them. OH my God! Do you think anyone cares how you vote????? P-u-l-e-e-ze!

You know, it is remarkable to see how Membership First has reacted here. In connection with the Film/TV negotiations, they are screaming about how the New Media proposals set an unacceptable precedent, even if the immediate harm is too small to measure.

Well, what kind of a precedent does it set for SAG to record each member's vote while assuring them falsely that their votes are confidential?

No one is really arguing with the concept of validating post cards. The argument is about going well beyond validation to actually recording individual votes by member name. This is not needed for validation, and is inappropriate.


Always nice to have a serious situation defused with a little levity, Lauren, thank you. These days, with SAG facing implosion and assault thanks to Doug Allen and the MF-ers' deluded power fantasies, I'll take my laughs where I can get them.

You are right to pursue this further, no matter what assurances the MF-ers spout -- this kind of obsession with recording names and keeping vigilant, nay paranoid records, is one mark of a ramp-up to the kind of control no union or political faction should have.

As a side note, I believe it is standard practice now to capitalize Regional Branch Division, RBD, or Branches. Makes sense, and sends a strong visual message of equality, something sorely lacking anywhere outside of Hollywood these days.

Keep up the good work.

Finn Jones

This is fruit born from a long practice of saying one thing and doing another. Shame on the current SAG leadership for inspiring suspicion and mistrust in those they have vowed to serve.

How ironic that Mark Carlton is the first comment ... telling members to "get over it." He was a key man involved in the theft of the SAG email list from 5757 ... remember THAT crapola? Well, that list, in various forms, is still floating around; I still get emails from people who are part of MF's 'funny farm' ... because of that theft. And now Carlton's telling members to 'get over it?'
Get serious, and get a copy of Landrum Griffin. Members have rights, unions have laws, but SAG majority currently breaks more laws than they enforce.
It's a frigging nightmare.

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