SAG-AFTRA’s funds held in trust for others have increased by 4.5% to $171.7 million since last year, according to the union’s latest filing with the federal government.
Those funds have been at the center of a long-running dispute, dating back to a 2007 suit filed by Ken Osmond (“Leave It to Beaver”) over how foreign royalties and residuals are handled by the union.
The report was signed by union president Gabrielle Carteris and secretary-treasurer Jane Austin. Carteris succeeded Ken Howard in March after he died unexpectedly.
In a July 31, 2015, campaign message to members, Howard said without elaboration that he and his allies had been responsible for the union’s foreign royalties program “that has distributed more than $20 million since inception.” The assertion was one of 24 accomplishments listed by Howard.
The SAG-AFTRA website currently lists the status of the foreign royalties program as of April 30, 2015 — 16 months ago — with $4.5 million collected and $921,000 distributed during that fiscal year, with the union asserting that the numbers are based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP audit. Since 1997, the report said, $34.3 million has been collected with $21.7 million distributed.
In May 2013, Ed Asner and 15 other union members filed suit, alleging SAG-AFTRA had improperly withheld $132 million in funds and stonewalled requests for information about the money held in trust by the union — including domestic residuals and foreign royalties collected by the union through foreign collecting societies without authorization or knowledge of union members.
The suit also alleged the union has cashed residuals checks and then claimed an inability to locate the actors to whom it owes money. A federal judge dismissed the suit in January of 2014, finding the union had been sufficiently cooperative in providing access to its materials. But the jurist also indicated that the plaintiffs would be able to revisit the issue.
Eric Hughes, one of the plaintiffs in the Asner suit, said in response to the new LM2 report: “The self celebrating David White has spearheaded the morphing of a new labor organization into a for profit corporation. The hired and elected leadership of this distorted entity continue and expand their violations of reporting and disclosure law against the well being and at the financial expense of members but can not forever escape the reality that members are not only the sole beneficiaries of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act they are in many instances its sole guardians.”
The funds held in trust are by far the largest component of the $212.1 million in liabilities listed in the report. Assets are listed at $258.6 million.
Osmond settled his case in 2011 and SAG and AFTRA merged in March 2012. SAG’s fiscal 2012 report listed $100.48 million for the “funds held in trust for others” category, while the AFTRA LM2 national report listed a total of $11 million, including $7.53 million of funds due to members that the union could not locate.
None of the four LM2 reports broke down the funds further. Hughes said that’s wrong.
“It may not be to White’s liking but the flow of cash in and out of SAG-AFTRA, during its fiscal year, is public information,” Hughes told Variety. “By law all financial receipts, regardless of the source, of SAG-AFTRA and all its disbursements during the reporting period must be reported. Any receipt and any disbursement of $5,000 or more or total receipts from and total disbursements to any single entity or individual that aggregate to $5,000 is public information.”
During the most recent fiscal year, SAG-AFTRA collected $105 million in dues, or slightly more than half of its $202 million in receipts. The union’s initiation fee is $3,000 and annual dues are $201.96; members also pay 1.575% of earnings to SAG-AFTRA.
The latest report shows that there were 158,479 active members as of April 30, up 1,636 from the year before.