AFTRA Health & Retirement Trustees Taking No Position on P&H Merger

The statement issued by the AFTRA benefit plans trustees is intended to clarify that a SAG-AFTRA study of the feasibility of merging the two unions’ benefit plans was conducted by the unions, not the AFTRA plans.

In a move that's likely to introduce confusion into an already controversial subject, the trustees of the AFTRA health and retirement plans issued a statement Thursday saying that they have not taken a position on merger of the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans.

The trustees affirmed that “plan mergers are legally permissible in appropriate circumstances,” but said neither they nor the AFTRA plans’ co-counsel had taken a position, and wouldn’t do so “until . . . a comprehensive feasibility study is performed.”

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The union plans – like those of the DGA, WGA, IATSE as well – are separate entities from the unions themselves, and are governed by a board composed of 50% union-side representatives and an equal number drawn from management. The separation is legally required.

It was evident from the trustees’ statement that they meant that a study would have to be performed by the funds themselves, although there was no apparent position as to when such a study would be conducted – if ever, for that matter – nor whether the AFTRA plans would want the study to be conducted by their plans in conjunction with SAG’s, or whether each plan would conduct its own study.

Thus, the union merger process, if merger is approved, may result in two or even three separate studies regarding benefit plan merger.

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The trustees added that “merger of pension and health funds as large and divergent as the AFTRA and SAG plans raises complex and unique financial, legal and benefit issues which can only be addressed through a comprehensive analysis performed by the funds.”

The trustees’ statement came in response to the fact that a joint SAG-AFTRA feasibility study of plan merger included a letter from Jani Rachelson of Cohen Weiss Simon, co-counsel to both AFTRA and the AFTRA benefit plans. An AFTRA union source commented that such co-representation is “very common.”

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The study, which was released Tuesday, included the letter, slightly over one page, as part of the approximately 30 page study, which includes contributions from a half-dozen other lawyers with decades of relevant experience.

The trustees said that they “did not request or authorize this opinion of Fund co-counsel and had no prior knowledge of this letter before reading the posting on the websites.” An AFTRA union source said that the letter was being taken down.

Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel

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