Pension alert still colors SAG outlook

Plan funding improves slightly, but isn't yet up to snuff

The pension plan drama isn’t over for the Screen Actors Guild.

SAG has notified participants that funding for its plan is still “endangered,” though it has improved slightly over last year, when it was hammered by investment losses.

Trustees of the plan — a separate entity from the guild that’s jointly administered by reps of SAG and the industry — began sending the notices to participants over the weekend.

The notice said the SAG plan’s in the “yellow zone” at 77.49% funding of its obligated payments as of Jan. 1, compared with 76.25% as of Jan. 1, 2009, when it was in the “orange zone.” The plan had been funded in the “green zone” (which requires 80% funding) at 91.06% as of the start of 2008, and was then clobbered by the declining financial markets.

However, trustees assured participants their pensions are safe. “The plan’s reserves are adequate to pay for all benefits to participants currently receiving a pension,” the notice added.

Like the other entertainment industry plans, SAG’s pension plan has been through a rocky period. It lost 22.7% of its value in 2008 to $2.1 billion, leading to an announcement early last year of two changes:

  • accrual rates for benefits were slashed from 3.5% to 2% at the start of 2010.

  • the minimum earnings to receive a pension credit during a calendar year was boosted from $16,000 to $17,000.

Bruce Dow, longtime administrator of the plans, told SAG’s membership meeting last October that employer contributions were down 10%-11% for 2009. That decline was due to a variety of factors.

Reps for the SAG plan had no comment Monday.

Currently, about 9,000 retirees receive a SAG pension.

AFTRA’s retirement fund — which pays pensions to about 7,000 individuals who have obtained five annual vesting credits — disclosed a year ago that the value of its assets declined 23.4% since the start of 2008 to $1.53 billion. The plan tightened eligibility requirements for vesting, accrual and participation ( Daily Variety , March 23, 2009).

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