SAG, AFTRA Health Plans Expected to Merge by January, Says Trustee

SAG/AFTRA building - H 2016
Amy Kaplan

Statement on Friday represents the first concrete public statement regarding timing of a plan merger.

The SAG and AFTRA health plans, whose still-separate status four years after the two actors unions merged has remained a major irritant, are expected to merge by January 2017, said an AFTRA plan trustee Friday.

"There is underway a merger of the health plans," said Disney/ABC labor vp Marc Sandman at a UCLA law school panel. "There is an expectation that it will be complete as of January next year."

The remark by Sandman, who co-chairs the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds board of trustees, represents the first concrete public statement regarding timing of a plan merger. The two legacy plans, and the merged SAG-AFTRA union, have been reluctant to offer specifics on the process.

Sandman declined to comment beyond his remarks. However, it is believed that the trustees of the two plans have not yet been asked to vote on a merger plan. That would probably have to happen by August or so, if a new merged plan is to be available in January — which is the time of year when new health plans are generally offered and when people who wish to switch do so.

Critics of current SAG-AFTRA leadership, many of them members of the MembershipFirst faction that opposed merger of the unions, have blamed the leadership for the still-separate status of the plans, despite the fact that each plan is governed by a board composed of equal numbers of labor and management representatives. Last June, SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White cited “significant progress” towards health plan merger. MembershipFirst partisans dismissed that at the time as election-season sloganeering.

In contrast to the health plans, Sandman cautioned that the separate pension plans would not be merged by January. Although he didn’t elaborate, it’s known that legal and financial/actuarial factors make pension plan joinder even more complex than health plan merger.

The problem with separate health or pension plans is that qualification rules mean that some performers whose work is split between legacy SAG and legacy AFTRA jurisdictions can fail to qualify for benefits where they might have been able to do so under a unified set of plans, although a health plan reciprocity scheme adopted in 2013 ameliorates the problem somewhat.

Sandman's comments came in front of an audience of several hundred attorneys at the 40th Annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium at UCLA Law School, organized by the school’s Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law.

March 11, 8:48 p.m. Updated and expanded