Nix fatally flawed merger plan

Guest column

This column was corrected June 11, 2003.

Management trustees say that merging the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans is not in the best interest of actors. It’s a certainty that the pension and health plans will not be merged unless management changes its view. SAG and AFTRA leaders say they are determined to persuade management to change its mind.

Let’s suppose they succeed: Will our future earnings go into the SAG pension, the AFTRA pension, or into a third pension created in the merged union (AIMA)? Will our AIMA pension be higher or lower than our SAG and AFTRA pensions? Will we qualify for the new AIMA health plan? Will our premiums go up? Will our benefits go down?

SAG and AFTRA don’t have any answers, but we’re being asked to vote anyway.

For months they’ve been selling their consolidation plan to us as “the first step toward merging our pension and health.”

Now that it’s come to light that merging P&H is highly unlikely, they’re backtracking and saying that there are more important reasons to merge, like “cutting costs,” for example.

Here too, there are many unanswered questions. We know for certain that AIMA will cost millions of dollars to create and maintain and it will operate for some time “in the red.” A “business plan” is mentioned in the Screen Actors Magazine that supposedly shows how costs will be cut to compensate for this.

I haven’t been shown this plan (and I’m the national recording secretary of SAG). Furthermore, they haven’t even shown it to Kent McCord, our national treasurer.

Too often the architects of this proposal are saying, “Trust me.” I’ve been in this business a long time — when someone says “trust me,” make sure it’s “in writing.”

SAG and AFTRA have been working together for 50 years with rare jurisdictional conflicts, every one one of which was resolved through negotiations.

Now, for the first time in history, our leaders say they can’t do what we’ve elected and paid them to do. We’re told that we must dissolve both unions and form an entirely separate entity called AIMA, which owns all our contracts, our bank accounts and every dollar of our dues.

It will wield unprecedented powers, including the right to veto anything negotiated or ratified by actors. It can grow larger and larger over the coming years (its constitution gives it the power to absorb and unlimited number of unions) and SAG, as an “affiliate,” will disappear into enormous, complicated bureaucracy.

When we help defeat this flawed merger plan, our unions will be forced to address the sound, well-documented alternative that were supposed and discredited in order to present this plan as ‘the only choice.’

I’m not resistant to change — but this is clearly the wrong deal. Sadly, I vote no.

(Editor’s note: Trustees in charge of health and pension benefits have, in fact, given mixed signals regarding the effects of the merger. For more background on the propsed merger, visit www.variety.com/AIMA.)