DGA member group sues to stop pension changes

NEW YORK — Claiming the Directors Guild of America is selling out its rank and file to benefit a minority of wealthy directors, a group of angry DGA members have filed a class-action lawsuit to reverse sweeping changes recently made in the Guild’s basic pension plan.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, claims DGA trustees violated federal labor laws last December when they voted to alter the formula by which each DGA member’s pension benefits are determined. Plaintiffs in the case, calling themselves the Save Our Pension Committee, say the changes do not serve the best interests of the majority of union members and that they violate both the union’s constitution as well as the original 1960 agreement that created the pension plan.

Prior to the changes, which went into effect Jan. 1, basic pension benefits were determined by credited service, essentially the amount of time each member was employed. The new formula distributes benefits based on career average earnings. While the union has contended that the new plan more equitably reflects the earning levels of DGA members, the Save Our Pension Committee says the effect is to polarize DGA membership into “haves and have-nots.”

Named as defendants in the suit is the DGA as well as 20 pension trustees who voted for the changes. The DGA’s pension trust also was named. Although the suit had been filed earlier this month, court papers were served on the plaintiffs March 23.

A DGA spokesman in New York said the East Coast office declined comment. The committee says the pension changes were never put to a union vote.

Robert Bordiga, a New York-based production manager who co-founded the Save Our Pension Committee last fall, contends that the changes could drastically alter individual benefits. Union leaders, he says, have not provided his group with statistical data as to how individual benefits would be affected, but committee estimates indicate that pension benefits for the majority of DGA members could be slashed.

Bordiga provided Variety with a letter sent by the union to a 42-year-old California DGA member regarding her benefits. Based on the woman’s 79 credited service months, her monthly pension benefits upon retirement at age 65 would be $ 738; under the new formula, the payments drop to $ 232.

Although the DGA wouldn’t comment on the plan, a letter from the Guild to pension participants dated Oct. 22, 1993, said that the new plan would more “equitably reflect” the widely varying earning levels of DGA members.

But that’s exactly what angers Bordiga and his group. They contend that the union already has a supplemental pension plan designed for higher-income members who can afford larger contributions.

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