3RD UPDATE (keep refreshing… new info below): For months and months, SAG’s previous leadership told members that the AMPTP had not yet offered the actors guild a “Last Best And Final” offer on the TV/Theatrical Contract — even though opponents of that leadership kept erroneously claiming Big Media had. Now the AMPTP acknowledges tonight that it indeed only offered a “Final Offer” to SAG’s previous administration back on June 30th, meaning a “Last Best And Final” offer was still to come. Interesting what a (mis)education campaign accomplishes when the AMPTP is orchestrating it, and its guild lapdogs are playing along. So the SAG National Majority tonight received exactly what the AMPTP always had every intention of offering the Guild eventually. It took all of 3 days for this sham of a negotiation to end. Because, as I told you last night, it doesn’t take long to Xerox the AFTRA deal with a few bones thrown in for motion picture players.

Indeed, if you read tonight’s AMPTP statement (see below) and look at its “Last Best And Final” offer, the arrogant tone and lousier-than-even-expected terms make clear that the SAG National Majority is now the AMPTP’s new bitch:

February 19, 2009 — The AMPTP has offered SAG a Last, Best and Final Offer that contains important enhancements to the Final Offer – a Final Offer that already represented a $250 million increase over SAG’s now-expired contract. The AMPTP made these enhancements in an effort to conclude the AMPTP’s sixth major labor agreement in the past year. The terms in the offer are the best we can or will offer in light of the five other major industry labor deals negotiated over the past year and the extraordinary economic crisis gripping the world economy.

The Producers have pledged to leave the Last, Best and Final Offer on the table for 60 days, at which point we reserve the right to modify or withdraw the terms of the offer. We urge SAG members to review the offer for themselves at amptp.org and consider not only the enhancements but the significant gains in wages, benefits, new media residuals and jurisdiction.

The SAG National Majority isn’t releasing its own statement tonight. That’s because I just heard that so woefully unprepared for the AMPTP was the new TV/Theatrical Contract Task Force that it was completely thrown when the employers didn’t stick to the expected script. “We went up there to bargain,” an insider told me. “But the AMPTP wouldn’t.” Um, sound familiar? Not to mention naive? “The blood just ran out of Ned Vaughn’s face,” one of my sources says. (Ned Vaughn is the leader of the Unite For Strength faction making up the SAG National Majority which now controls the Guild and these negotiations.)

It so happens that SAG’s task force didn’t bother to negotiate the New Media terms or the residuals issues or the other equally vital stuff. Instead, it was presented on Wednesday with the AMPTP’s fait accompli: the “Last Best And Final” offer that is still worse than AFTRA’s contract. That’s what being “moderate” is all about: you accept what the AMPTP gives you. That’s why I’m told the new leadership was “flabbergasted” when the AMPTP demanded something new: a 3-year contract that would ensure SAG would be dead last again in pattern bargaining.

So the SAG National Majority just got ass-whipped by the AMPTP. And, because SAG’s new leaders didn’t have the balls to battle, the AMPTP was able to deliver its ultimatum and stalk off victorious. Of course, going into a real negotiation with employers, experienced union leaders know that claiming from the outset to be “moderate” is a strategic error that gets members less than zero. Which perfectly describes the AMPTP’s “Last Best And Final” offer whose so-called improvements are even more puny than predicted.

Once again, Variety‘s resident fabulist Dave McNary couldn’t get it right. First, he claimed that SAG’s new negotiators walked out of today’s talks. Next, he reversed himself and reported that the AMPTP left first.

So what happens next? Saturday’s Special Meeting of the SAG National Board. It was called with no prior notice by Interim NED David White for this busy showbiz awards weekend. Not only will all those events reduce the number of Hollywood Division’s Membership First board members, but they found out about the plenary only by accident. Now there are questions if the meeting is even legit because there’s no official agenda. Maybe White merely wants to pin down his own compensation package. But as I reported yesterday, it’s much more likely that this Saturday plenary is intended to get approval for the AMPTP’s “Last Best And Final” contract offer which the SAG National Majority knew was coming this week. Tonight, even the trades agree with me that the board could vote on it Saturday. It’s even more likely if Membership First can’t muster a full contingent. Then the SAG National Majority could do almost anything it wants — rubber stamp the contract, implement affected member voting, start with the strike scare tactics.

In short, what I wrote last night in Why The Smoke & Mirrors, SAG & AMPTP?