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Pension suit could cause rift at DGA

In a move that could divide the Directors Guild of America over economic issues, a group of angry DGA dues-payers has filed a class-action suit against the guild to reverse recent sweeping changes in the pension plan.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, charges DGA trustees with violating federal labor laws last December when they voted to alter the formula that calculates each DGA member’s pensionbenefits.

A group of below-the-line DGA members called the Save Our Pension Committee is claiming that those changes will drastically cut pensions for members who make only minimal DGA salaries, while boosting payments for high earners in the guild.

The suit pours salt in a long-standing wound at the DGA: the economic rift between A-list helmers — both TV and feature — and the vast pool of below-the-line assistant and associate directors, production and stage managers, technical coordinators and production associates who are also in the union. According to SOPC officials, more than 62% of DGA members earn less than $ 25, 000 per year.

Though only 13 below-the-line plaintiffs have joined the suit so far, plaintiff lawyer Leonard Flamm said more than 5,000 DGA members might also join.

Pension benefits, under the new plan effective Jan. 1, are now based on career average earnings instead of the old formula of “credited service.”

The union in a letter to the membership in October claimed the average-earnings plan more “equitably reflected” the earning levels of all DGA members.

But the SOPC argues that the changes polarize the membership into a discordant union of “haves and have-nots,” adding that the pension changes were never put to a union vote.

Majority sellout

“This is a sellout of the majority to benefit an elitist minority,” Flamm said. “This suit is about what the union did to its own people.”

DGA officials would offer only a terse reply to the suit.

“The sole issue raised in this case is whether all the trustees of the DGA pension plan acted in a manner consistent with their fiduciary responsibility to the plan’s participants. The DGA is confident that the trustees acted in such a manner and that the U.S. District Court will concur,” said DGA spokesman Chuck Warn.

The suit names the DGA, the pension trust and 20 pension trustees who voted for the changes. Although the suit was filed earlier this month, court papers were served on the defendants Wednesday.

Robert Bordiga, a New York-based production manager and former union rep who co-founded the SOPC last fall, said the DGA has been hesitant to provide data on how benefits would be affected. But SOPC estimates claim the changes would slash the benefits of most members.

Bordiga provided Daily Variety with a letter sent by the union to a 42 -year-old California DGA member regarding her benefits. Based on the woman’s 79 credited service months, her monthly pension benefits upon retirement at age 65 would be $ 738. Under the new formula, the payments drop to $ 232.

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