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Union pensioners reap benefits

Hollywood’s union pensioners will be seeing more dough in their monthly staple as many of the major Guilds are reporting sizable increases in their pension plans which, in turn, means bigger payouts to members.

One of the largest increases in benefits was recently initiated by the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. Over the last two years, the Guild’s trustees have increased pensions by 50%, targeted to most dramatically affect lower and middle income earners.

“Our investment program has been very successful and we found that we could afford to increase pensions,” noted Bill Hillman, chairman of AFTRA’s Health & Retirement Funds Trustees.

Currently AFTRA’s pension plan has assets of approximately $ 838 million.

Similarly the Screen Actors Guild pension plan, which has also initiated increases to its membership, rose this past year from $ 842 million to $ 914 million. Pension officials are projecting that the fund’s assets will exceed $ 1 billion by the end of 1993.

“We’ve done very well on our investments,” said Bruce Dow, administrator of SAG’s pension plan.

In other words, they didn’t invest in junk bonds and have small holdings in L.A.’s slumping commercial real estate market, he said. The majority of investments have been in stocks and high-grade bonds.

As of Jan. 1, Actors’ Equity’s pension plan was valued around $ 311 million, which prompted trustees to increase accruals from 2% to 2.25% and allow pensioners to accrue higher pensions in the future.

“We’re always faced with either increasing those benefits or facing the possible loss of that surplus to the government,” noted George Ives, Equity’s western regional director.

In AFTRA’s case, trustees decided to increase the percentage paid out on the first $ 100,000 earned from 2% to 2.4% (amounting to a 20% increase). Additionally they raised the maximum amount applied to a member’s total compensation plan from $ 200,000 to $ 228,860.

The raise in the maximum amount was in accordance with recent IRS changes.

While the changes will most dramatically affect lower- and middle- income performers, Hillman said those who earn more than $ 200,000 a year also will see a rise in their pension checks. Those who earned between $ 100,000 and $ 200,000 annually won’t be affected.

These changes will affect AFTRA members who retire on or after Dec. 1, 1992. Those who retired before that date will see a 15% increase in their pension payouts.

One union pension plan that will not initiate increases to its pensioners this year will be the Writers Guild of America West.

“The margin that generally exists to enable the trust to make benefit increases was not there for this year,” noted Rocco N. Calabrese, administrator of the Producer-Writers Guild of America Pension plan. “So the trustees made the decision to not increase benefits.”

This marks the first time in 10 years that the fund, which currently has between $ 500 and $ 600 million, has not initiated increases to its earners.

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