AFTRA fund trustees say merger difficult

They say uniting pension, health plans complicated

By Dave McNary

Trustees of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds have entered into the debate over merging the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

The trustees, in a statement issued Thursday, have poured cold water on a recently announced “feasibility review” about merging the AFTRA plan with the SAG pension and health plans. SAG and AFTRA had disclosed the feasibility review — a collection of attorneys’ opinions that there’s no legal impediment to merging the independently operated plans — as part of this week’s unveiling of the details of a proposed SAG and AFTRA merger.

Merger backers are contending that combining SAG and AFTRA will make it easier to combine the plans as a first step toward resolving the problem that performers face in making contributions to the separate plans and then not meeting the earnings qualifications.

But AFTRA plan trustees said they have nothing to do with the feasibility review — while acknowledging that the review’s legal opinions included one from co-counsel to the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds, Jani Rachelson.

“The board of trustees of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds wishes to make it absolutely clear that the opinions expressed in this ‘Feasibility Review’ in no way represent the opinion of AFTRA H&R’s board of trustees,” the trustees said. “The board of trustees did not request or authorize this opinion of Fund co-counsel and had no prior knowledge of this letter before reading the posting on the websites.”

The AFTRA plan trustees also warned that combining the SAG and AFTRA plans would be a major challenge.

“Although there is no doubt that plan mergers are legally permissible in appropriate circumstances, the merger of pension and health funds as large and divergent as the AFTRA and SAG plans raises complex and unique financial, legal and benefit issues which can only be addressed through a comprehensive analysis performed by the funds,” the AFTRA trustees said. “No position has been, or will be, taken by the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds Trustees or its co-counsel until such time as a comprehensive feasibility study is performed.”

SAG and AFTRA will mail out ballots Feb. 27 to 120,000 SAG members and 70,000 AFTRA members, with a tabulation date of March 30. To be approved, the merger must receive at least 60% of the votes from each union.

The unions’ summary of the “feasibility study” noted that several hundred multiemployer pensions have merged over the last 25 years, and there is no legal obstacle to merging the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans. It also said multiemployer plan mergers do not pose any increased risk of loss of benefits.

The summary also said, “Mergers are common and beneficial because they strengthen the financial base of the surviving plan, reduce administrative expenses and permit employees to concentrate their covered work under one benefit structure.”

The debate over whether SAG’s and AFTRA’s pension and health plans should be merged became a major issue in 2003. In that contest, 58% of SAG voters backed the proposal — less than 2,000 votes short of meeting the 60% requirement.

In that contest, the SAG management trustees on a merger study committee said they could not support merger.

“While we take no position on the internal union issue of consolidating memberships, we do serve as fiduciaries of the SAG-Producer Pension and Health Plans and, as such, have a legal responsibility to SAG plans participants,” the management trustees said in 2003. “These legal responsibilities, which are borne equally by both Producer and Union Trustees, prevent us from supporting a merger of the SAG and AFTRA plans if the merger is not in the best interests of SAG participants.”

At the time, SAG president Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly attacked the trustees as meddling in union politics and declared, “We know we can’t rely on employers to look out for our best interests.”

The management trustees denied the accusations that their comments were motivated by a desire to derail the proposed SAG-AFTRA consolidation.

Contact Dave McNary at dave.mcnary@variety.com

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Some thoughts from my pal and former SAG board member Terrence Beasor:

NOW IS THE TIME.

Now is the time to drop all of the issues involving David Browde, Bruce Dow, Dow’s wife’s boobs, law suits over missing pension funds, etc. etc. etc.

Now is the time to draw up lists of those things that would be totally unacceptable to you, personally, in a SAG – AFTRA MERGER. There is a very short window between today and when the plan and ballot are mailed out to the membership, and when your ballot must be returned. I have started my list based on what haS been leaked to the press and I am happy to share it with you, with the understanding that I might add to my list or subtract some items off it, after I have read the documents.

1. CONVENTION. I will not vote for any plan that has, as a part of its plan, a convention to elect any national officer, adopt a strategic plan, establish national committees, or set committee chairs or members.

2. DUES. Basic dues and initiation fees must be equal across the country. Hollywood must not be paying more than the Regional National Board. I know the arguments. They are smaller, there is less work, they live in a “right to work state” My answer is if they want the same voice as New York and Hollywood, they must pay the same money.

3. P&H PLAN. A viable plan, approved by the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA) must be a part of the plan and the actuarial report which that must be done,(legally) must be made available to the membership.

4. MERGER PLAN. No holes in the plan. No promises to “fix it in post.” Think of this as a contract between you and the Producer – you would never sign a blank one would you? You would never accept a producer’s plea to “Trust me on this.” If it isn’t in the plan – there is no reason to honor the promise to amend it later.

5. CONTRACTS. I will not have a non-actor involved in my contract negotiations or in voting on the acceptance of that contract.

That is all I have for now. Oh, yeah. I WANT TO KNOW WHO IS WRITING THE MINORITY REPORT.

Your only topic on this web site should concern merger. Because if we don’t defeat merge.

ALL OF THESE OTHER THINGS YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT WON’T MEAN ANYTHING.

WHAT DO YOU AS A MEMBER OF SCREEN ACTORS GUILD GAIN FROM A MERGER OF SAG AND AFTRA?
It occurred to me the other day, WHAT DOES AFTRA GET OUT OF THIS MERGER?

At one of the early “Listening Tour” meetings, in response to a question about the influx of “new” members taking away the jobs of SAG members, Amy Aquino, Secretary-Treasurer, pointed out that the total of members, in the merged union, would only grow by the addition of 28,000 AFTRA only members.

I assume that the majority of these AFTRA only members are Broadcasters (Radio and Television), Recording Artists, DJs, etc.  Has anyone asked them what they want?  What have they been promised if the Merger is successful?

AFTRA is smaller, in membership, so what do they hope for?  As of the latest LM2 report to the Office of Labor Management, AFTRA reports a membership of 68,113 voting members, 40,000 of which we are told also belong to SAG.  So, the net gain to the merged union would be 28,113. 

Why not ask the NLRB to hold an election among those 28,000 members to see if they want to have SAG or AFTRA represent them.  That would certainly be cheaper than the $10 M SAG and AFTRA are jointly paying to rush this pig to market.

The Ol’ SAG Watchdog

 

Arl