Pension suit tossed

Judge: Crafts workers not illegally penalized

A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit asserting that retired drivers, plumbers and plasterers were illegally penalized last year through exclusion from a traditional pension payout.

U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real granted a motion Monday in Los Angeles to dismiss the suit filed by five Basic Crafts trustees of the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan against the plan and 30 other trustees.

Retaliation alleged

The Basic Crafts retirees alleged they were excluded from the payout by the pension fund last year because their unions had not agreed to the same concessions made by the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in negotiations with the studios and nets. The IATSE retirees, who are covered by the same pension plan, received the payout, which comes from excess funds collected for residuals.

The defendants had contended that trustees’ amendments to the pension plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act were not subject to court review.

Suit alleged the payout was withheld after the Basic Crafts leaders refused to participate in early negotiations for a new contract to replace their current pact, which expires July 31. No start date has been set for those talks. Plaintiffs also asserted that IATSE made the concessions in last year’s agreement contingent upon the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers obtaining the same concessions from Teamsters Local 399, one of the Basic Crafts unions.

Labor practices complaint

Attorneys were not immediately available for comment. The Basic Crafts trustees have also filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

IATSE covers much of the below-the-line work on sets; Basic Crafts includes drivers, plumbers, pipe fitters, plasterers, cement masons, some electrical workers and location managers.

The specific benefits at issue are the annual distribution to retirees of surplus amounts in the plan that are in excess of what’s needed to pay current benefits and fund future benefits. The surplus distributions have traditionally been twice the monthly benefit received by retirees — commonly referred to as the “13th and 14th benefit checks” — and mailed out around Christmas.

IATSE’s three-year basic agreement, which covers 19 West Coast locals, went into effect Aug. 1, reflecting the union’s strategic approach of negotiating contracts long before their expiration rather than up against a deadline. The IATSE pact contained concessions that included wage freezes on first- and second-year episodic TV and reduced wages for single-camera half-hour episodics with budgets under $1.25 million and one-hour episodics under $1.85 million.

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