Leaked Study May Undermine Case for SAG-AFTRA Merger

In what might end up being the biggest case of blowback in Hollywood this season, the pro-merger forces in SAG and AFTRA apparently leaked a 2003 study of union benefit plans in an attempt to bolster their argument for a merger of the two unions.

The Mercer Report, prepared in connection with an earlier attempt at merger by an outside consulting group, does start out concluding as the pro-merger groups have argued that the separate health and pension plans maintained by the two unions could be merged. But it then quickly notes that there are “key philosophical differences” between the plans that will cause the trustees to “wrestle” with resolution of them in case of a merger.

It also poses a critical question for the unions: Is it “worth” it to take on those “key issues and challenges” in three major areas identified by the Report?

In fact, the Report puts on the table as an open question whether it makes sense or not to merge the benefits plans at all. The possibility of merging the plans after the merger of the unions has been a critical part of the argument for merger proponents. Now it is clear that the Report they themselves apparently leaked – the Report was said to be confidential – will actually undermine their arguments.

The Report will have to be scrutinized carefully and compared with current plan benefits, but even a cursory glance indicates that SAG’s plan is more generous in key areas, such as the threshold for family coverage for health care. The Report also notes that SAG “is generating much greater employer contributions.” It is this kind of “philosophical difference” that would mean a fierce post-merger battle if the unions merge first without resolving these differences.

Thus, the Mercer Report concludes that “it may be a challenge to find a common design that will be agreeable to both parties.” And they leave open as a “fall back” the idea of separate benefits structures for SAG and AFTRA even within a “combined plan.”

Of course, the pro-merger leaders of SAG and AFTRA are well aware of this upcoming battle. And they also know if they try to resolve these differences prior to merger the likelihood of getting SAG to compromise is greatly reduced. And of course compromise by SAG is the critical variable in this merger, of both the unions (where SAG’s rules against non-union work are stronger) and the benefits plans.

13 thoughts on “Leaked Study May Undermine Case for SAG-AFTRA Merger”

  1. I AGREE with BARBARA WILLIAMS – NO MERGER – The only people I noticed who want the merger are those who are AFTRA only….

  2. And Marisa- this is absolutely not a done deal. As far as I know- our direct vote has not been taken away yet. Whether the 60% is there remains to be seen. What an absurd comment.

  3. Stephen: Thank you for voicing an opposing view to this merger. I am a dues paying SAG member and all I hear is how great this merger is going to be for us. I have often asked myself why is SAG so motivated to promote this merger? And what is my motivation to vote yes? Thank you for presenting an alternate view. We need more of that in order to make a decision.

  4. Steve, why not post my comment? Are you afraid of an opposing point of view? Should I post it on another blog?

    I can’t think why you would block a comment.

    Marisa

  5. Steve, why would a journalist expose a source? I mean, who cares where it came from? Is it the actual Mercer Report? YES.

    Does it finally put to rest what AMJ and Rosenberg carp about re: the report? YES and it exposes them as the fools they are.

    The report is pretty clear that even almost a decade ago, without the impact of the economic crisis the world is seeing now, that the plans could merge and would not pose any damage to beneficiaries.

    It’s a done deal. We’re merging now and the plans soon after. If the plans have reciprocity that would be great. But if not, whatever is structured we know by FEDERAL LAW that the merging must NOT have a negative effect on the beneficiaries.

    [EDIT]

    SDIAMOND: Jonathan Handel made clear that he was leaking the report in order to undermine the argument made by merger opponents. Anyone who reads the report can decide for themselves but its key conclusion is that “key philosophical differences” between the two plans exist. In other words, merger will not necessarily lead, as Ned Vaughn stated in his recent KPCC interview, to merger of the plans or an end to split earnings problems.

  6. The blow back will be on those Hollywood-centric plaintiffs, the exclusivistic remnants of Membership First.

    It’s 2012. This is a National Union. Not a Hollywood only country club.

    [SDIAMOND: Critics of high quality organizations that set a higher bar than others for membership often use the argument that they are an exclusive club. Many craft based labor organizations face this kind of criticism. But there is a sound basis to establishing minimal norms for membership if the union is to have any bargaining power at all with the employers.]

  7. Jonathan, my inference was based on your “reporting” that the Mercer Report undermined the case against merger. As I wrote that is far from the case, so perhaps you are right – but since you are the recipient of the leaked document stop with the tease and tell us your source. In my experience, professional (unionized) journalists don’t play these kinds of games.

  8. Really No Drama? I don’t know and neither do you and that is precisely the point. The members of SAG don’t have the information needed to make a rational decision.

  9. Barbara, you couldn’t possibly be a union member. The only way unions really work is if the union captures as many workers in that area as possible. Did you not learn anything with the horrific TV/Theatrical negotiation of 2008. Do you not understand that the reason that there are such disparate rates in cable is because SAG and AFTRA do not negotiate together. AFTRA has an Interactive Agreement SAG does not. SAG will never have a new Interactive Agreement as long as SAG members who also hold an AFTRA card does that work. And it’s things like that that potentially undermine and weaken the P & H plans. Merger is the only way to have a union that works for everybody. And Steve., really, a 9 year old report after the economic collapse of three and a half years ago, still holds water? Really?

  10. No merger! This is another way to monopolize and then control the way a business, in this case the Screen Actors Guild, a union, will operate.

    Monopolies are one of the major reasons America is in so much trouble. Power in few hands is a recipe for disaster. Have “We” learned nothing?

    Both Unions should maintain their identity and use their individual power working together for their membership.

    I am a member of both unions and I pay, twice a year, individual dues to these unions. NO MERGER!

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