SAG-AFTRA Board Defends Leaders Over Alleged Misconduct

UPDATE, 12:34 p.m Tuesday — Ed Asner has announced that he no longer supports a letter alleging extensive misconduct by SAG-AFTRA leaders.

“I signed on to this letter, not knowing it would go public, to right what I was led to believe was wrong,” Asner said in a statement. “The union replied to these charges on June 25, and I have since apologized for the publicity surrounding this letter at the time of our very important negotiations, and I would like to express my surprise that after being responded to by the union, that the charges from the letter are being issued again.”

He added, “I withdraw my name from that repeated issuance of the letter. I have full confidence in our chief negotiator David White, and our executives Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and John McGuire, as I’m sure they will do a fine job in conducting those negotiations and making progress for our union.”

The United Screen Artists Committee, which wrote the letter, said in response: “USAC stands one hundred percent by its allegations that have nothing to do with the collective-bargaining negotiations taking place. The union has a fiduciary duty to its members, and that includes turning over wages and foreign royalties to their rightful owners. Amassing millions of dollars to pay for first class travel, excessive salaries and buildings is the issue.”

ORIGINAL: SAG-AFTRA’s national board has rejected allegations of extensive misconduct by its top leaders, following accusations made in April by former SAG president Ed Asner and eight other members.

The board unanimously passed a resolution Sunday saying that the allegations by the United Screen Artists Committee were “either false or completely unsubstantiated,” based on a report by its outside counsel and accountants.

“The National Board that SAG-AFTRA categorically rejects the allegations and claims of the USAC letter and declines to take any of the actions requested therein, other than making records and information available for review by members as has always been SAG-AFTRA policy,” the board said.

“Be it further resolved that SAG-AFTRA urges USAC and its individual signatories to withdraw their potentially defamatory, unsubstantiated allegations against SAG-AFTRA executive leadership, and Be it finally resolved that the National Board expresses its full confidence in and appreciation for National Executive Director David White, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, Senior Advisor John McGuire, and the other individuals unjustifiably and baselessly targeted in the USAC correspondence.”

The United Screen Artists Committee is the same entity that sued the union in federal court in 2013 over the issue of the union’s alleged mis-handling of $130 million foreign royalties and residuals. That suit was dismissed in 2014 and the union repeatedly insisted that it had done nothing wrong and characterized that litigation as “frivolous.” It also asserted on numerous occasions in 2013 and 2014 that without its efforts, actors would not have seen any of the foreign funds nor received unclaimed residuals.

The April 20 letter of demand incorporates several of the allegations from the 2013 suit along with new accusations of misconduct by White, general counsel Crabtree-Ireland, senior advisor McGuire and consultant Robert Hadl. It also threatened to file a federal lawsuit if the policies were not corrected. Besides Asner, the letter was signed by Alan Ruck, Clancy Brown, Eric Hughes, Steve Barr, Terrence Beasor, Tom Bower, Alex McArthur and Dennis Hayden.

The letter also accused White, who has been national executive director since 2009, of an array of financial misconduct, including charging the union for cell phones for seven different numbers; limousine service to attend the SAG Awards; use of hotel and airline reward programs for his personal use; donating purportedly unclaimed residuals and royalties to not-for-profit organizations while sitting on their boards; authorizing expenditure of millions of dollars for hotels in New York and Los Angeles for non-members and relatives.

USAC issued a response Monday, noting that the SAG-AFTRA board omitted the information that Bond Beebe Advisors & Accountants — which reviewed the allegations for the board — are the financial consultants, tax strategists, accountants and auditors of the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds, Screen Actors Guild-Producers Health Plan and the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan.

“The report is presented as an ‘Independent Consultant’s Report’ although it is not signed by an actual person,” USAC said. “It is extremely disappointing that the national board has given credence to a purportedly unbiased report from the auditors that play a major role in handling our members pension funds. The refusal of any individual from the firm to even sign the report is equally disconcerting.”

USAC added,  “The National Board’s statement that the report ‘concludes that each and every material allegation contained in the USAC correspondence is either false or completely unsubstantiated’ ignores the fact that not ‘each and every material allegation contained in the USAC correspondence’ is addressed and that we were neither asked to provide the considerable evidence in our possession nor did we have any contact whatsoever with those conducting this so-called investigation.”

The USAC’s response said the Bond Beebe report ignores the fact that federal labor law does not allow union officials to use members’ monies to line their own pockets.

“Efforts after the fact to sanctify and sanitize the diversion of union funds under the guise that SAG-AFTRA is the largest entertainment union in the country and is simply doing what other unions do ignores the fact that disclosures were never made in the first place,” USAC said.

“USAC and its members are quite mindful that although we sought to review financial records as well as the contracts involving so-called foreign levies, SAG-AFTRA refused to permit access for more than two years. Now that some of the records have been reviewed, USAC is appalled and cannot believe that executives making more than a half a million a year treat membership dues, residuals, foreign royalties, and producer settlements as an unlimited trough from which to feed,” USAC said.

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