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SAG-AFTRA Lawsuit: Union Slammed for Over $130 Million In Unpaid Funds

Hearing set for Oct. 7 on dismissal motion

Ed Asner and the 15 other plaintiffs in the SAG-AFTRA lawsuit over $130 million in unpaid funds from foreign royalties and residuals have blasted the union’s efforts to dismiss the action, alleging that leaders are “clearly indifferent” to federal requirements of accountability and transparency.

“These requirements have been ignored deliberately, placing the pecuniary interests of the union above those of its members,” the filing said.

The union’s dismissal motion is set to be heard Oct. 7 before U.S. District Court Judge Manual Real in Los Angeles.

The suit was filed May 24 and alleges extensive misconduct in handling of foreign levies and residuals they are owed. The union has repeatedly brushed off the suit, denying wrongdoing and asserting that it was “very proud” of its unclaimed residuals and foreign royalties program and that actors would not have received their funds without the union’s efforts.

SAG-AFTRA responded on July 31 by asserting that most of the plaintiffs — who filed as members of the United Screen Actors Committee — lack the standing to litigate the issue and that the issues raised by the suit have already been resolved in the 2010 settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by “Leave It to Beaver” actor Ken Osmond.

The plaintiffs responded Monday with their opposition to the dismissal motion. “This case is about a blatant refusal of SAG-AFTRA and their predecessors to account for and distribute residuals as as well as foreign residuals/foreign levies to their rightful owners for what has turned out to be more than a decade,” the motion said.

The filing also said the Osmond case never involved a claim that federal labor laws were violated, did not involve issues about residuals and did not involve AFTRA, which merged with SAG last year.

“AFTRA’s receipt and distribution of Residuals as well as Foreign Royalties Foreign Levies has never been challenged, while AFTRA had not even merged into SAG when the Osmond Class Action Settlement was sanctioned by the state court. Had AFTRA been included, the notice which would have to have been given would have more than doubled,” the filing said.

“Lastly, the class action settlement was not fairly  negotiated with due process violations, including inadequate notice and a refusal to account for funds received and disbursed while also denying access to agreements upon which the settlement was based,” it added.

SAG-AFTRA has accused the plaintiffs of making “florid and disconnected allegations” and asserted that they are making a “speculative claim by no more than 17 of the 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA that they may be owed a very small amount of money.”

On July 27, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland reported the union’s foreign royalties program has distributed more than $17.5 million to performers since inception – $3.5 million higher than what SAG-AFTRA disclosed in May, when it said that it had distributed over $14 million in foreign royalties.

The foreign funds 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.

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