Pension trustees return merger fire

Mgmt. sez it's only protecting SAG plan participants

The debate over whether SAG’s and AFTRA’s pension and health plans should be merged heated up Tuesday with both sides taking potshots at each other.

Management trustees hit back at recent criticism by SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert and AFTRA president John Connolly after the duo attacked them last week over their assertion that the proposed combination of SAG’s plan with AFTRA’s won’t benefit thesps. Gilbert and Connolly portrayed the management trustees as meddling in union politics and declared, “We know we can’t rely on employers to look out for our best interests.”

The SAG plan operates independently of SAG with 36 trustees — 18 repping management and 18 union trustees repping SAG.

The management trustees on the merger study committee, in a statement issued Tuesday, parried specific accusations that their comments were motivated by a desire to derail the proposed SAG-AFTRA consolidation. They also took issue with the accusation that they have misinterpreted an internal report performed by Mercer Consulting.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the trustees said. “While we take no position on the internal union issue of consolidating memberships, we do serve as fiduciaries of the SAG-Producer Pension and Health Plans and, as such, have a legal responsibility to SAG plans participants. These legal responsibilities, which are borne equally by both Producer and Union Trustees, prevent us from supporting a merger of the SAG and AFTRA plans if the merger is not in the best interests of SAG participants.”

SAG and AFTRA members will vote next month on “consolidation” — forming an umbrella union with affiliates for actors, broadcasters and recording artists — and the notion of subsequently merging of the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans is a key part of that campaign. Union leaders asked the trustees earlier this year to lay the groundwork to merge the plans to hold down costs.

And in an indication of the volatility of SAG politics, four of the union trustees issued a rare public statement Tuesday in response to the management trustees, announcing their disagreement with the “premature” conclusion that the merger of plans won’t benefit participants. “We are deeply troubled that any union member or plan participant would accept this management analysis,” wrote Bob Kaliban, Daryl Anderson, Al Hubbs and Kitty Swink.

The management trustees said Tuesday that merging the SAG and AFTRA plans was also explored in 1996 and the trustees concluded unanimously that merging the plans was “not in the best interests of SAG participants” for three reasons:

  • SAG participants would bear disproportionately higher costs.

  • No administrative savings would result.

  • There was no way to merge the plans in a way that would benefit SAG participants.

They noted that the recently completed Mercer report underlined the 1996 conclusions. And in a final shot, they implied that the union trustees have given in to pressure from SAG leaders by choosing to ignore those factors.

“All of the obstacles to merger which were presented in the 1996 merger study still existed but on an even greater scale,” the management trustees said. “A merger of the plans will result in subsidization of the AFTRA plans by the SAG plans and a decrease in benefits for SAG participants. It is a position that is well-documented and was shared by SAG union trustees until very recently.”

Management trustees have agreed, under pressure from the union trustees, to further study the plan and discuss it after the voting on consolidation. Ballots go out to 98,000 SAG members and 77,000 AFTRA members on June 9 and must be returned by June 30.

The union trustees stressed Tuesday that further study of various models is necessary. “Until we have the opportunity to review and consider those models, no one can say definitively whether a merger is in the best interests of the participants,” they added.

SAG’s anti-merger group plans to hold a news conference Thursday in Los Angeles with SAG board member Valerie Harper and treasurer Kent McCord appearing.

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