SAG-AFTRA’s funds held in trust for others have increased by 7.1% to $183.9 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 levies are handled by the union. Osmond settled his suit in 2011.
The disclosure of the increase came in the July 31 filing of SAG-AFTRA’s LM-2 report with the U.S. Department of Labor for the fiscal year that ended on April 30 in the category of “funds held in trust for others.” The 2016 report showed a 4.5% gain in the funds held for others to $171.4 million; the 2015 report showed a 7.5% hike to $164.3 million; the 2014 report listed those funds at $153.04 million, a 16% jump from 2013’s figure of $132.26 million.
A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson said Tuesday in response to a question from Variety: “The growth is due to increased production and the resulting producers’ deposits. The number of projects in production increased again this year.”
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But the union has never given a specific breakdown of “funds held in trust for others.” The new report was signed by union president Gabrielle Carteris and secretary-treasurer Jane Austin. Both are seeking re-election with results set to be announced Aug. 24.
The SAG-AFTRA website currently lists the status of the foreign royalties program as of April 30, 2016 — 16 months ago — with $6.8 million collected and $1.7 million distributed during that fiscal year, with the union asserting that the numbers are based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP audit. Since 1997, the report said, $41.1 million has been collected with $23.4 million distributed.
In May 2013, Ed Asner and 15 other union members filed suit as the United Screen Artists Committee, 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 owed money. A federal judge dismissed the suit in January of 2014, finding the union had been sufficiently cooperative in providing access to its materials.
On April 21 of this year, Asner and eight other members of USAC accused the union’s leadership — national executive director David White, chief operating officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, and senior advisor John McGuire — of extensive misconduct in the handling of union funds and threatened to file a federal lawsuit if the policies were not corrected. Carteris blasted USAC in her response, saying, “This group of people should be deeply ashamed.”
On June 25, the national board unanimously rejected the allegations in the letter, saying that allegations had been found false by outside counsel and that White, Crabtree-Ireland, and McGuire had been “unjustifiably and baselessly targeted.” Additionally, Asner said at that point that he no longer supported USAC.
USAC responded by saying that membership dues, residuals, foreign royalties, and producer settlements were being used as “an unlimited trough” by the union executives.
The new LM-2 report listed White with total compensation of $704,153 for fiscal 2017. The national board gave White a four-year deal in October, 2014. Crabtree-Ireland received $396,624 and McGuire took in $238,756.
Eric Hughes, one of the plaintiffs in the Asner suit, said Tuesday in response to the new LM-2 report: “The union continues to be in violation of federal reporting and disclosure law.”
Hughes noted that the national board had refused to meet with USAC, leading to the 2013 suit and asserted that much of the LM-2’s “funds held in trust for others” are the property of members — both residuals and monies under neighboring rights in foreign countries which were for a time called foreign levies.
“USAC further found that from that fund such monies are converted into a fictitious producers share and paid to members’ employers,” Hughes said.
“Foreign levies, now misleadingly called foreign copyright royalties, paid to members and their employers are absent from the Form LM-2 except for in the unitemized Funds Held in Trust for Others which until several years ago was identified as Funds Held in Trust for Members,” he said. “The Form LM-2 is signed by two current candidates for President and Secretary-Treasurer, Gabrielle Carteris and Jane Austin respectively. They have openly called members who demand accountability deplorable and while running for election have signed yet again a Form LM-2 in violation of federal law.”
The funds held in trust are by far the largest component of the $222.8 million in liabilities listed in the report. Assets are listed at $283.8 million.
During the most recent fiscal year, SAG-AFTRA collected $101.3 million in dues, or slightly more than half of its $201.2 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 160,776 active members as of April 30, up 2,297 from the year before.