SAG-AFTRA opponents nix merger suit

Group cites strong merger support as court action dropped

Opponents of the SAG-AFTRA merger have decided against pursuing their lawsuit against the combination of the unions.

An attorney for the opponents said a stipulation would be filed Thursday in Los Angeles federal court.

The reason behind the decision, David Cassleman said, is strong support among members for the merger, approved in March by 82% of SAG members voting and 86% of AFTRA members voting.

“After careful consideration, largely reflecting on the results of the recent merger election, my clients have reached the conclusion that continued prosecution of the pending litigation would not assist the cause they initially sought to champion,” he said in a letter to Robert Bush, counsel for SAG.

The suit, filed Feb. 22, alleged that SAG leaders had violated the union rules in pursuing the merger.

But U.S. District Court Judge James Otero ruled March 28 that the plaintiffs — who included Martin Sheen and 60 others — had not presented a persuasive enough case for him to issue an injunction to put the merger vote on hold.

“While many substantial questions remain about abuses of the process leading to the merger vote, there is little to be gained at this point by embarrassing the individuals at fault or destabilizing their own union,” Cassleman added.

In a 25-page ruling, Otero found it was inappropriate to intervene in the internal affairs of the performers unions. The suit alleges that SAG hasn’t adhered to its own regulations in promulgating the merger and is required to perform an actuarial study of the results of merging the plans but Otero found that SAG had not violated any federal labor law and cited the principle of judicial non-interference in union affairs.

“Voting in favor of merger may or may not be in the interest of the majority of union members,” Otero wrote. “But the decision, for better of worse, belongs to the members — not to the plaintiffs and certainly not to the court.”

In the March ruling, Otero had also denied SAG’s motion to dismiss the suit, allowing the plaintiffs’ claims of breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract to proceed.

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