Daily Archives: March 7, 2012

Expert Slams SAG Disclosure to Actors Ahead of AFTRA Merger Vote

In another example of the value of digging into the details of the federal court suit filed to block the SAG-AFTRA merger, The Hollywood Reporter’s dogged labor journalist Jonathan Handel discovered that an actuarial expert with 35 years experience including an MBA from the prestigious Wharton School of Business believes that SAG members have not received the information they need to make an informed decision on the merger of the two unions.

Handel wrote:

….plaintiffs’ expert, actuary Patrick Byrnes, said on behalf of his firm [in a declaration filed with the Federal court where the SAG lawsuit is proceeding] that “it is at a minimum prudent to have the impact of the plan merger evaluated by a qualified actuarial organization under several different designs.”

Byrnes also said that “without performing a study to determine how the combined plans would be merged, there is no way to know precisely if or how much the benefits to SAG members would have to be reduced or if contributions by all members would have to be increased.”…

Even without a study, Byrnes concluded that “SAG pension plan is relatively richer and more beneficial to the SAG members, than the existing AFTRA plan” and said “in my experience, it is likely that combination of the existing SAG and AFTRA plans will either require additional funding or SAG benefits would have to be reduced.”

Byrnes also said that “it would be prudent for the Pension Trustees to meet before voting on merger of the unions to discuss cost and benefit implications to the pension plans associated with the merger.”

Handel also reports that an actuary who was involved in the 2003 Mercer Report done in connection with a proposed merger then of the unions does not believe that the plaintiffs can get an adequate study done in advance but he rests this conclusion on the fact that any new merged plan would have new trustees and it is hard to predict precisely what they would do.

It is clearly feasible to provide more information to SAG members than has been currently provided. The only report provided the SAG membership was prepared by lawyers who reviewed the legal questions rather than the actuarial issues examined by Byrnes.

In other words, both experts agree that the final house might look different than the original plans, but actors deserve to see the possible blueprints in advance. In 2003 they were given precisely that kind of report.

The Mercer Report concluded then that there were “key philosophical differences” between the SAG and AFTRA benefits plans that would cause trustees to have to wrestle with their resolution. Those differences remain, according to Byrnes, and are still a key issue in the merger today according to many on line reports by actors in both unions.

Federal labor law mandates that SAG leaders provide rank and file union members all relevant information prior to a vote on a key union decision such as merger. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for the end of March prior to the counting of the ballots now in the hands of union members.

The Byrnes statement can be found here.