SAG-AFTRA Board Urges Unified Pension & Health Plan

4:09 PM PST 07/22/2012 by Jonathan Handel

The unions merged months ago, but the two plans are legally separate from the joined entity.

The SAG-AFTRA board approved a motion urging the trustees of the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans to immediately implement changes in the two sets of health plans that would make benefits more widely available to members, the union announced Sunday.

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The vote, which came on the second day of the July SAG-AFTRA board meeting, calls on the trustees to “implement immediately a reciprocity agreement between the two existing Health Plans” and to “undertake expeditious and appropriate action to create a unified Health Plan.”

The Board also urged the trustees of the two plans -- known as the SAG Producers Pension and Health Plans and the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds -- to review “the feasibility and advisability of creating a unified (pension plan) and reciprocity agreement between the existing (pension plans).”

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These items were priorities for many members who voted for merger, which passed March 30. It’s not known what steps, if any, toward those goals have been taken in the past four months by the union or the trustees of the two plans. Half of the trustees of each plan are appointed by the union and half by management. The plans are legally separate from the union, which is why merger of the unions did not automatically result in unification or coordination of the plans.

The shift of television work to AFTRA, as well as economic and other factors, have resulted in significantly reduced benefits for the SAG health plan, while the AFTRA plan has been able to hold much steadier.

Unifying the plans does not necessarily mean merging them. The exact form that unification takes depends on complex actuarial and other factors. However, unification – and perhaps reciprocity – would be intended to eliminate or ameliorate the “split earnings” problem, in which members find the employer P&H contributions from their film and most commercial work flowing to the SAG plan, while the contributions from much of their TV work goes to the AFTRA plan.

That split can result in the member falling short of required earnings thresholds for each plan even if their aggregate earnings would have met the applicable threshold if the plans were unified.

Meanwhile, the SAG P&H plan has been rocked several months ago by series of allegations of misconduct, a still-pending lawsuit and the April resignation of its embattled CEO.

The board next meets on October 27- 28.

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Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel

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