Ed Asner and 15 other plaintiffs have blistered SAG-AFTRA over alleged mishandling of $132 million in residuals and foreign royalties a month after the union asked a federal judge to dismiss the complaint.
In a filing opposing the dismissal motion in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the plaintiffs portrayed the union as reckless in how it handles funds that it’s supposed to distribute to performers.
“SAG-AFTRA simply does not record what is earned but it willy-nilly converts checks as it sees fit, by either endorsing checks made out to performers and placing same into its purported Trust Account, or by holding onto performers checks for months if not years on end to the ongoing detriment of its members who depend on these earnings to live,” the plaintiffs said. “SAG-AFTRA has clearly taken advantage of its role as a fiduciary and must be held accountable for misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance in these and other regards.”
The filing accused SAG-AFTRA of an “end run” around U.S. Supreme Court decisions that limit a union’s ability to extract “inappropriate” dues from unwilling members and accused the union of borrowing against residuals and foreign funds. And it derided the presence of a foreign funds tracker on the union web site, adding, “Expecting a member to initiate a distribution belies SAG-AFTRA’s responsibilities in this regard.”
Judge Manuel Real has scheduled a Jan. 6 hearing on the dismissal motion.
The union filed the 18-page motion on Nov. 20, asserting that the plaintiffs’ claims under state law should be tossed because they are “completely preempted by federal labor law” and that the plaintiffs “do not have the authority to sue on behalf of anyone other than themselves.”
The plaintiffs’ filing blasted those assertions, saying, “the United States Supreme Court has held that state law claims are not preempted if they are based on rights that exist independent of a labor contract.”
SAG-AFTRA also insisted in the Nov. 20 filing that it had complied with the demand for access to review of its financial records — attempting to parry extensive allegations that members and elected leaders have been kept in the dark about the funds. The plaintiffs cited the union’s “entrenched” refusal to permit inspections of records and provide copies of the contracts covering distribution of the foreign funds.
“Plaintiffs justifiably fear that other inappropriate expenditures if not improvident investment and losses have taken place,” it said.
The plaintiffs also cited the need for union records because of an embezzlement scheme within the SAG residuals department that was disclosed by SAG in December, 2010.
The original suit was filed on May 24. Real narrowed the issues on Oct. 7, allowing the suit to include the issue of residuals and three of the 16 plaintiffs to proceed with their claims on unpaid foreign royalties.