Presidential candidates sling mud about contributions

In the campaign for presidency of the Screen Actors Guild, health and pension plans have become the latest battleground.

Each campaign faction is blaming the other over the plans’ disclosure this week that they are significantly reducing benefits and increasing premiums in January, along with noting that employer contributions are down 10% in 2009.

SAG 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson, who heads the hardline Membership First ticket, unleashed a torrent of criticism Friday at rival Ken Howard of the Unite for Strength faction. She took issue with Howard’s assertion that she and her allies are to blame for the plans’ problems due to their unsuccessful stance to hold out for better terms in new-media earnings.

“We see it differently,” she said. “We were fighting hard to protect what we had and to secure revenue in areas that could generate millions for our employers. Sadly, there will be little to no contributions made to SAG’s P&H generated from these revenue streams.”

SAG will announce its election results Sept. 24. The moderate coalition, which won control of the national board last fall, is expected to stay in power.

Johnson said the new feature-primetime deal includes loss of P&H contributions in areas such as the 17- and 24-day free exhibition windows from move-over of traditional broadcast programs to new media; original product made for new media with budgets of less than $15,000 per minute; no residuals from original product made for new media with budgets under $25,000 per minute; and no residuals for pre-1971 movies and pre-1974 television shows rerun in new media.

Johnson blasted Howard over “breaking confidentiality” in a message Tuesday about the changes, which were unveiled the next day. (Without giving specifics, Howard said the plans were going to impose “higher health insurance premiums and deductibles, and a lower pension accrual rate.”)

Johnson also asserted that the Unite for Strength push for a SAG-AFTRA merger is “extremely premature,” given the difficulties in combining the health and pension plans.

Because of SAG’s prolonged contract stalemate, nearly all new TV pilots signed with AFTRA this year. On Thursday, the Unite for Strength faction blamed Membership First group for its strategy of hostility toward AFTRA, which resulted in AFTRA negotiating separately from SAG.

“The cost of the decision last year to fight with AFTRA rather than partner with them on our biggest contract negotiation has already been deeply felt, but it hasn’t been fully realized yet,” said board candidate Ned Vaughn in a message to Unite for Strength supporters with the title “Vote to Protect Your SAG P&H Benefits.”

The two plans, which are operated jointly by trustees representing SAG and the entertainment industry, made the disclosures in the newsletter in order to meet notification requirement deadlines.

In March, SAG’s pension plan disclosed that the value of its assets declined by 22.7% in 2008. This represented a loss of $800 million, leaving it with a value of about $2.1 billion (Daily Variety, April 1).

This week’s newsletter said the pension now stands at 78% funding for its obligation, leaving the plan in the “seriously endangered” category. Accordingly, the plan requires reduced accrual rates for benefits; currently at 3.5%, they will drop to 2% in January.

As for the SAG health plan, Plan I monthly premiums will rise from $50 to $83, with Plan II rising from $65 to $98. The plan will also charge senior performers a premium for the first time of $25 a month.

“Will we go back to fighting with AFTRA and further endanger our benefit plans?” Vaughn said in his message. “Or will we unite with AFTRA to increase our bargaining power and strengthen the security of our health and pension benefits? This election will determine our course. It’s clearer than ever that we cannot go back to the go-it-alone approach.”

Want Entertainment News First? Sign up for Variety Alerts and Newsletters!
Post A Comment 0