Despite serious difficulties in joining the guilds’ health and pension plans, AFTRA officials are pushing forward to find a viable alternative that could lead to the completion of the planned merger with the Screen Actors Guild.
Wrapping its three-day biennial convention in Philadelphia Saturday night, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists’ national board adopted a resolution that urged SAG and AFTRA pension and health plan trustees to modify the confidentiality agreement “to communicate more fully to us the status of their discussions.”
The confidentiality clauses binding the trustees appear to be hindering the progress of merging the health plans.
“We have asked for specifics (from the AFTRA trustees) and at this point we have not received them,” Ken Orsatti, SAG’s national executive director, told Daily Variety. “I would personally be amenable to modifying the confidentiality agreement so that we can share more information with the boards.”
A resolution was also passed to submit a SAG definite merger referendum to AFTRA members. While AFTRA officials say the final date for a referendum is February 1999, AFTRA officials say a merger vote could be sent to members as early as winter 1998.
“I think the merger is still on track,” said Shelby Scott, who was re-elected unanimously at the convention to a third consecutive two-year term as prexy of AFTRA. But Scott admitted the problems in finding a compromise to merging AFTRA and SAG health plans “has slowed down the process.”
To date, SAG health and pension fund trustees have rejected three of AFTRA’s proposals to merge the two guilds’ plans. AFTRA’s pension and health plan has assets of $1.5 billion and is fully funded. SAG’s pension plan is nearly equal in assets, but has an unfunded liability of approximately $400 million.
SAG officials maintain that there are differences in the method of funding, makeup of participants and demographics of each plan which make it difficult to simplify the value of each plan.
A resolution adopted by the AFTRA convention further stated that “SAG/Producers pension and health plan trustees be asked for a fuller explanation of their reluctance to explore alternatives suggested by AFTRA trustees or to offer other alternatives of their own.”
“We have suggested that we bring together the assets of both plans,” said Orsatti.
Some sources say bringing together both guilds’ pension and health plans is a critical step to completing a SAG-AFTRA merger.
Not a death blow
However, Orsatti said, “It is not a death blow,” Orsatti said. “The merger of the unions is not dependent on the merger of the pension and health plans.”
“It’s clear that the pension and health funds issue is difficult,” said Bruce York, AFTRA’s national exec director. “We are identifying alternatives if we can’t merge pension funds.”
York said AFTRA officials plan to meet with their SAG counterparts in the next two months.
“If the (pension and health) plans don’t merge, I don’t know how they will vote,” said Scott. “I just know it’s of concern to members of both unions.”
Separately, AFTRA’s George Heller Memorial Gold Card Award, which is given to those who have made significant contributions to the guild and its members, was bestowed upon Belva Davis and Dick Moore.
Davis is an AFTRA VP and broadcast journalist for San Francisco’s KRON and KQED. Moore is an author and former actor as well as a current spokesman of the guild and editor of AFTRA magazine.
In addition to Scott’s re-election, 11 national officers were elected for two-year terms. San Francisco actor/announcer Denny Delk was re-elected national first VP and Ray Bradford of Chicago was elected second VP. Susan Boyd of Los Angeles, J.R. Horne of New York, Bob Edwards of Washington/Baltimore, Belva Davis of San Francisco, Dave Corey of Miami and Reed Farrell of Tucson were elected as vice presidents. Mitch McGuire of New York was elected national treasurer and Bernie Alan of Los Angeles was named recording secretary.
Also at the convention, members agreed to create a standard $1,000 initiation fee as of Nov. 1, 1997. Previously, the fee, which has averaged about $800 nationally, was set by AFTRA locals and varied considerably.