Trustees of The AFTRA Health and Retirement plans have acknowledged that they are exploring the possibility of merging with the SAG plans.
The trustees made the disclosure in a brief statement Tuesday, two days after the SAG-AFTRA national board asked the plans -- which operate separately -- to make merging a priority.
"The Trustees of the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds are examining and will continue to fully explore the options available to them following the merger of performer unions that created SAG-AFTRA on March 30," the statement said. "Any decisions made or not made by the Trustees of AFTRA H&R will continue to be guided by the best interest of the participants served by AFTRA H&R."
The SAG-AFTRA national board approved a motion with 99.47% support that urged the union and industry trustees to combine the plans. The boards, which have an equal number of reps from the unions and the industry, were urged to "undertake expeditious and appropriate action" to create a unified health plan and to implement immediately a reciprocity agreement between the two existing health plans.
The SAG plans have not responded to the SAG-AFTRA motion.
Merger backers touted the combined SAG-AFTRA as having more power than the individual unions and asserted that combining the unions would be a first step toward combining the separate SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans -- and starting to solve the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans.
During the merger campaign, trustees of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds distanced themselves from a "feasibility review" about merging the AFTRA plan with the SAG pension and health plans -- while acknowledging that the review's legal opinions included one from co-counsel to the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds, Jani Rachelson.
The AFTRA plan trustees also warned at that point that combining the SAG and AFTRA plans would be a major challenge.
"Although there is no doubt that plan mergers are legally permissible in appropriate circumstances, the 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 AFTRA trustees said. "No position has been, or will be, taken by the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds Trustees or its co-counsel until such time as a comprehensive feasibility study is performed."
The unions' summary of the "feasibility study" noted that several hundred multiemployer pensions have merged over the last 25 years, and there was no legal obstacle to merging the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans. It also said multiemployer plan mergers do not pose any increased risk of loss of benefits.
SAG opponents of the merger -- including Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Nancy Sinatra and former SAG presidents Ed Asner, Kathleen Nolan and Alan Rosenberg -- went to court in February to prevent the merger vote from being official, alleging that the merger process had violated SAG rules.
But a federal judge refused to block the voting and the suit was dropped in May with an attorney for the plaintiffs saying that the strong support among members for the merger -- rather than the merits of the case -- had been the key factor in abandoning the legal action.
The suit alleged that SAG had not adhered to its own regulations in promulgating the merger and was required to perform an actuarial study of the results of merging the plans but US District Court Judge James Otero found that SAG had not violated any federal labor law and cited the principle of judicial non-interference in union affairs in his decision against intervening.
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