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SAG, AFTRA moving towards merging health, retirement plans

Discussions currently progressing between the two orgs

Trustees of the SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans are progressing towards merging the separate plans, according to the merged SAG-AFTRA.

SAG-AFTRA leaders received a report over the weekend at their national board meeting about the progress of reciprocity and merger of the SAG-Producers Pension & Health Plans and the AFTRA Health & Retirement Plans.

“The trustees of both organizations, which are separate from the union, have initiated formal communications regarding the issue of reciprocity and, ultimately merger between the plans, and discussions are progressing between the two organizations,” the union said in a statement issued Sunday.

It was the first disclosure of steps toward combining the plans since SAG-AFTRA announced on Aug. 20 that the plan trustees had met for four hours on Aug. 11 to discuss how such a move might be handled logistically. The effort comes seven months after SAG and AFTRA members approved a merger of the two performers unions.

Proponents of the merger touted the combined SAG-AFTRA as having more power than the individual unions and asserted that combining the unions would be a first step toward combining the separate SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans — and a move toward solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans.

Opponents of the merger unsuccessfully filed a federal lawsuit in February, alleging that SAG had not followed its own rules due to its failure to conduct a comprehensive analysis of combining the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans, which are operated separately from the unions and overseen by union-industry boards.

During the weekend meeting, leaders of SAG-AFTRA also set in motion plans for next year’s elections and board structure, which will be in place next September. The number of national board seats allotted for the 25 locals will be 70 with Los Angeles having 28 and New York with 16.

The national board will also contain the 10 national officers, bringing its total size to 80.

Due to bringing in about 70,000 AFTRA members, the new structure represents a dimunition of the influence held by Los Angeles and New York in governance of SAG — under which LA held about 60 percent of the board seats and New York with 25 percent. Total membership of SAG-AFTRA is about 165,000.

SAG-AFTRA noted that it has restructured its organization from 33 locals to 25. A spokesperson said that there are no plans to close any offices and that the move re-draws the geographic boundaries between several locals.

The national board unanimously voted to approve the following locals: Atlanta, Arizona-Utah, Chicago, Colorado, Dallas-Fort Worth, Hawaii, Houston-Austin, Los Angeles, Miami, Michigan, Missouri-Kansas City-Nebraska, Nashville, Nevada, New England, New Orleans, New Mexico, New York, Ohio Allegheny, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco-Northern California, Seattle, Twin Cities, Washington-Mid Atlantic.

Co-President Roberta Reardon reported all national committee chairs and members have been selected for the commercials contract negotiations and that the “wages and working conditions” process has concluded member meetings.

The commercials contract expires March 31 and covers about $1 billion in annual earnings. The “wages and working conditions” plenary to review and vote on recommended proposals is scheduled to take place on Nov. 17 and 18 in Los Angeles.

Negotiations with the ad industry have been tentatively set for either late January or early Feburary.

Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland reported that the union has distributed $14.59 million in foreign royalties to members with SAG-AFTRA noting that the funds “if uncollected, would have been lost to members forever.”

The union was accused in September in a “demand for accountability” letter by more than a dozen members — including former SAG president Ed Asner — of misconduct in its handling of foreign levies and residuals they are owed. The union has strongly denied the allegations and reiterated its insistence that it has done nothing wrong in how it handled the funds — which began to flow two decades ago as compensation for reuse, such as taxes on video rentals, cable retransmissions and purchases of blank videocassettes and DVDs.

Asner’s letter sought a “full and complete accounting” on foreign royalties and residuals, asserting that more than $100 million is currently held in trust for members.

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