Trustees spent four-plus hours talking logistics of combining health and retirement plans

Trustees of the SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans took the first official step to explore the possibility of merging the separate plans, meeting for more than four hours on Aug. 11 to discuss how such a move might be handled logistically.

SAG-AFTRA — which had asked last month for the trustees to take such a step — made the disclosure Monday on its web site.

“The meeting was quite positive,” said David White, SAG-AFTRA national exec director and a trustee on the SAG Plans. “The trustees of the two plans are building a common understanding on how best to move forward on both fronts, reciprocity and plan merger.”

The effort comes five months after members approved a merger of the two performers unions.

Proponents of the merger touted the combined SAG-AFTRA as having more power than the individual unions and asserted that combining the unions would be a first step toward combining the separate SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans — and a move toward solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans.

Opponents of the merger unsuccessfully filed a federal lawsuit in February, alleging that SAG had not followed its own rules by not conducting a comprehensive analysis of combining the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans, which are operated separately from the unions and overseen by union-industry boards.

The unions’ summary of the feasibility study, containing opinions of seven attorneys with experience in the field, noted that several hundred multi-employer pensions have merged over the past 25 years and that there is no legal obstacle to merging the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans.

The SAG-AFTRA national board approved a motion with 99.47% support on July 22 that urged the union and industry trustees to combine the plans. The boards, which have an equal number of reps from the unions and the industry, were urged to “undertake expeditious and appropriate action” to create a unified health plan and to implement immediately a reciprocity agreement between the two existing health plans.

SAG-AFTRA co-president Roberta Reardon, a trustee on the AFTRA Funds, said in statement following Monday’s SAG disclosure, “I’m pleased that we are moving forward and the union trustees are working together to develop a common roadmap for how to successfully move through this process. As a participant myself, I’m heartened to see their dedication and commitment to progress on our twin goals.”

During the merger campaign, trustees of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds distanced themselves from the “feasibility review” about merging the AFTRA plan with the SAG pension and health plans — while acknowledging that the review’s legal opinions included one from Jani Rachelson, co-counsel to the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds. The AFTRA plan trustees also warned at that point 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.”

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