Los Angeles and New York (July 22, 2012) – The National Board of Directors of SAG-AFTRA met today via videoconference in the final day of a regularly scheduled two-day plenary. The National Board voted overwhelmingly (99.47%) to approve a motion urging the union and industry trustees of the SAG Producers Pension and Health Plans (“P&H”) and the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds (H&R) to undertake expeditious and appropriate action to create a unified Health Plan for performers, broadcasters and others working under SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements, and to implement immediately a reciprocity agreement between the two existing Health Plans.
The Board also urged the Plan Trustees to review the feasibility and advisability of creating a unified Defined Benefit Retirement Plan and reciprocity agreement between the existing Pension and Retirement Plans.
The Board specifically directed the Union-appointed Trustees of the Plans to treat as priorities the creation of a unified Health Plan and the immediate implementation of an interim reciprocity agreement between the existing Health Plans and to meet for the purpose of discussing the actions necessary to create a unified Health Plan and a unified Defined Benefit Retirement Plan.
The Board also received an update on SAG-AFTRA’s comprehensive organizing strategy from Assistant National Executive Director for Organizing Philip Denniston, whose team was instrumental in focusing intense member attention and activity around the music video industry and the negotiations on that contract.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 p.m. PDT. The Board next meets on October 27 & 28.
SAG-AFTRA MERGER APPROVED! 81.9% Of SAG Ballots Returned Voted Yes; 86.1% Of AFTRA; Single Union Effective Immediately
BREAKING… 3RD UPDATE: The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are now one union effective immediately. The announcement was greeted with huge cheers, applause, hugs, and the mass singing of “We Shall Overcome” inside the headquarters. SAG President Ken Howard and AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon, both strong advocates of the merger, announced the referendum results today in Los Angeles saying, “SAG-AFTRA is born.” Howard continued, “This is the day that we have decisively chosen a path of unity and strength. This is the culmination of years of work. People have worked for this goal for decades. We stand on your shoulders. The members wanted merger, they wanted it as soon as possible and, member, you can be assured that you were heard. You have sent a message to our employers. You have said loud and clear this is not a fractured group but a united group. We are committed to helping to shape the future of the industries. In a single day our future has become brighter.”
After the announcement Howard told Deadline that “relief” was his persnal reaction to the refrendum result. “This merger was so necessary to the future of actors and I wanted it be resoundingly approved,” he said. “That they approved it with such a massive mandate is a huge answer for us going forward.” The single union now represents more than 150,000 actors, announcers, broadcasters journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals. Their work can be seen and heard in theaters, on television and radio, sound recordings, the Internet, games, mobile devices and home video.
Immediately, the AMPTP which represents Big Media’s studios and networks stated about the merged union: “The AMPTP looks forward to a cooperative relationship with the new performers’ organization as we endeavor to address the challenges of operating in an industry undergoing transformation.” The Directors Guild as well as the Writers Guild West and East also sent congratulations.
One nagging issue which no one at today’s podium wanted to address with substance was the future (and possible merger) of the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans. Said SAG Executive Director David White who also has been on the Board Of Trustees of the SAG P&HP: “I think today we are celebrating but we are going to begin the process. But we don’t have much more to add at this point.” And Ken Howard said, “I think they will get a lot stronger over time. We were able to clear up a lot of misconceptions. Let me give you an example, vested pensions are protected by federal law. So they will not be diluted.”
The referendum results were:
105,368 number of ballots mailed.
81.9 percent yes votes
53 percent returned
65,744 number of ballots mailed.
86.18 percent of yes votes
51.7 percent returned
Big cheers erupted when Ken Howard said, ”Let me introduce my esteemed SAG-AFTRA Co-President Roberta Reardon, who said, “What an incredible culmination of two years of hard work. We stand as one. This new union will give us the collective voice and presence to protect our present contracts. Finally we are able to speak with one unified voice. In life there’s rarely reward without risk. There is power in a union.”
Asked by Deadline what they had to say to the anti-merger forces, Reardon replied: “I encourage them to stay involved. It’s a big tent.” To which Howard said, ”Ditto”.
AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth said: ”This is a historic day not just for our members but the American labor movement… Today’s vote is a bold statement that union solidarity is alive and well and will not be denied.”
The first convention of the new ‘SAG-AFTRA’ union is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles around September 2013. Click here to see the merger agreement document. The results, tallied by Integrity Voting Systems, were also streamed live online Friday afternoon. A result of 60% or more from the valid returned ballots cast in each union’s vote was required for the merger to be approved. More than 131,000 ballots were sent out on February 27th to members of both unions. The deadline for ballots to be returned to be counted was 10 AM PST today. Union members were encouraged to approve the merger by their respective national boards who claimed that “one union will increase our bargaining leverage”. But anti-merger forces led by Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Anne-Marie Johnson, and other high profile critics cited concerns about other issues, including the lack of a formal study to determine how SAG’s and AFTRA’s health and pension plans would be handled after the merger. The anti-merger group went to court to stop the vote. But on March 28, Judge James Otero dismissed their effort. However, Otero did allow the anti-merger force’s claims that the SAG board breached fiduciary duties in the proposed merger and of breach of contract to continue in the courts. But today’s referendum culminates a merger effort that has been rejected in the past by SAG members several times.
Here is the SAG-AFTRA announcement:
LOS ANGELES (March 30, 2012) — The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Screen Actors Guild are pleased to announce that members of both organizations have overwhelmingly voted to approve a merger, creating a new entity, SAG-AFTRA. SAG members voted 82 percent in favor of the merger. AFTRA members favored the merger with 86 percent, exceeding the 60 percent threshold needed for both unions’ membership for passage.
UPDATE, 8:56 AM FRIDAY: Today’s press conference will be live-streamed at sagaftra.org.
PREVIOUS, WEDNESDAY PM: SAG national president Ken Howard, AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon, SAG secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino, AFTRA treasurer Matt Kimbrough, SAG 1st national …
Below is a statement issued by the plaintiffs through their attorneys, Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esensten about today’s court decision:
The Court issued a thoughtful, 25 page, single spaced opinion. It overrules the SAG defendants motion to strike the breach of fiduciary duty cause of action, seeking a recovery of attorney’s fees. It also rejects defendants motions to dismiss the federal breach of fiduciary duty claim, the California breach of fiduciary duty claim, the federal breach of contract claim and reserves jurisdiction to address all of those causes of action by trial on the merits. Therefore, the litigation continues on the merits, even though the Court declined to grant the requested preliminary injunction.
Judge Won’t Stop SAG-AFTRA Merger Vote – But Notes Members May See “Decrease In Benefits” Because Of No Actuarial Study
U.S. District Court Judge James Otero rejected the anti SAG-AFTRA merger efforts by Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Diane Ladd, and others to render the vote void before it is conducted. So now the SAG-AFTRA merger referendum results will be known after 1 PM Friday. But the judge noted that while he would not dismiss the anti-merger forces’ claims that the SAG board breached fiduciary duties in the proposed merger, especially its effects on SAG member’s pension and health plans, “If the merger is approved by the Membership, and the Members eventually see a decrease in benefits, it will be the result of their informed decision to vote for merger without the benefit of an actuarial study. The democratic process does not always yield the most desirable results for all.” The judge also rejected SAG’s attempt to dismiss the suit outright and allowed the anti-merger forces’ breach of contract claim to continue. Today’s decision comes just over a week after the judge cancelled a March 26 hearing on the matter and chose instead to issue an order.
Here’s partial reaction from the antimerger force that brought the lawsuit:
Unfortunately, only time will tell whether or not the concerns brought to light by this litigation were heeded. Our greatest concern is that a year from now, members who voted for the merger will find out that, as this lawsuit predicts, their pension and health benefits will be diminished and the split earnings issue will effectively continue. Members will still be unable to qualify for benefits because their combined earnings will likely have to exceed an increased earnings threshold. Plaintiffs continue to believe that the decision of the union not to conduct a professional, actuarial study, was done intentionally to hide those findings from a membership that needed to know the truth. The Court made no finding to the contrary.
Here’s the SAG announcement:
Los Angeles, Calif.– Federal Judge James Otero today denied the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction in Sheen v SAG clearing the way for Screen Actors Guild’s merger referendum ballot counting to go forward as scheduled on Friday, March 30.
BREAKING 7:30 PM… EXCLUSIVE… MORE DETAILS… Whistleblower Craig E Simmons today filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer, the Screen Actors Guild Pension & Health Plan. And the fired high-ranking executive makes explosive allegations against CEO Bruce Dow who is still apparently employed there. These accusations have been informally leveled against Dow and the SAG P&HP for months now, but for the first time Simmons puts them into the record via his legal complaint. (Read the 19-page lawsuit here.) If true, they beg for a complete and independent investigation as well as housecleaning at SAG P&HP which governs more than $2 billion in assets on behalf of SAG members.
Simmons was executive director of SAGP&HP human resources and held other top titles, and is a lawyer. One of his attorneys on this lawsuit is the well-known Greg Smith, who is currently running for LA City Attorney. The complaint alleges that Simmons was wrongfully terminated after reporting illegal conduct by CEO Dow. Simmons repeatedly talked and wrote to SAG P&HP trustees and execs and claimed Dow was swindling the organization out of multi-millions. The lawsuit filed in LA Superior Court today alleges that:
– Dow underreported the amount of money embezzled by a former employee,
– Dow was sending insurance business to his wife and pocketing part of the premiums,
– Dow was paying his brother-in-law for doing no work
– Dow was using insider investment information to benefit the International Church Of The Foursquare Gospel where he was a practicing member
– Dow asked Simmons to lie to the trustees and to the Department Of Labor to coverup wrongdoing,
– Dow is guilty of “obstruction of justice”.
These claims are separate from Simmons’ already public allegations made in letters to the trustees about a former SAG P&H Plan employee who embezzled millions from the organization and apparently was never made to account for the missing money or his fraud.
SAG P&H bigwigs and their surrogates have been trying to move heaven and earth to discredit anyone making allegations against the organization, especially while the SAG-AFTRA merger is being voted up or down by the Screen Actors Guild membership right now. The merger plans right now contain no blueprint for how the two unions’ pension and health plans will be conducted because of no formal study by SAG and AFTRA leaders.
Present SAG Guild leadership likes to point out that the SAG P&H Plan is run separately from the union. But some of SAG Guild’s officers have been SAG P&HP trustees. For instance, at the time Simmons was fired, David White was President of the Board of Trustees of the SAG P&H Plans and the National Executive Director of the SAG Guild. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is a Trustee of the SAG P&HP and the General Counsel of the SAG Guild. John McGuire is a Trustee of the SAG P&HP and the Senior Adviser of the SAG Guild.
UPDATE: In January, SAG P&HP said Dow had requested a leave of absence just as the scandal surrounding him was starting to become public. No investigation was ever announced. In my opinion, even the appearance of a coverup must stop immediately and an independent probe begun.]
In documents filed today by his attorneys asking for a jury trial, Simmons alleges that he was wrongfully terminated on March 25, 2011, because he wouldn’t cover up Dow’s alleged multi-million dollar embezzlement scheme of the SAG P&HP. The firing of Simmons, who had been at SAG-PPHP since summer 2008, came just over two months after he had been promoted to HR Executive Director on January 14, 2011. Under the complaint of Labor Code and Public Policy violations by SAG-PPHP, Simmons is seeking punitive damages “in a sum which is an amount appropriate to punish and set an example of said Defendants, to deter such conduct in the future and to set an example for others”.
The lawsuit says that, in the beginning of 2011, Dow was under investigation from the Department of Labor in regards to funneling “SAG-PPHP insurance business to his wife and pocketing a portion of the money on the insurance premiums” and providing a “phantom job” to his brother-in-law. This came, the complaint says, after Simmons had earlier reported to Board trustees Leah French and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland that Dow was “underreporting … fraud incidents by millions of dollars” in regards to another employee stealing from the fund.
In January 2011, Simmons says that, as various other SAG-PPHP employees were being interviewed about the matter by the Labor Department, Dow asked him to “lie to the Department Of Labor investigator by affirming that Dow’s brother-in-law was an employee of SAG-PPHP.” Simmons says he “refused” that request. Simmons says he also refused Dow’s request not to tell the Board about being interviewed by the DOL. Simmons alleges that Dow arranged for “another Plan Executive Amanda Bernard to be interviewed” instead.
I have been inundated with more insider allegations — some of them shocking — about the Screen Actors Guild Pension & Health Plan and the way its Board Of Trustees is running the organization. Look for major updates today.
EXCLUSIVE: I’ve learned that whistleblower Craig Simmons has been telling federal authorities what he knows about the Screen Actors Guild Pension & Health Plan scandal. During October 2011, November 2011, and December 2011, he testified under oath during three sessions in Los Angeles with the FBI, IRS, Securities & Exchange Commission, Department Of Justice, and Department Of Labor inside the Federal Building in Westwood. My information is that the authorities were taking copious notes while Simmons spoke. Insiders also tell me that federal investigations are now ongoing into not just one embezzlement and cover-up inside the SAG P&H Plan but also another fraud and cover-up there which makes two scandals altogether. I understand the FBI asked Simmons not to go public about the probes and he has not spoken publicly about his whistleblowing. [See Simmons' letter here to the SAG P&HP 36 Board Of Trustees, and Simmons' letter here to the Department Of Labor, which led to the federal probes.] So Deadline is the first to break this important news.
My understanding is that when Simmons went in to testify, the feds already had documents in their possession outlining what embezzlements and cover-ups may have taken place. However, I can also now confirm that federal investigators last week and this week arrived at SAG P&H Plan offices in Southern California and in Massachusetts and carried out several dozen boxes of paperwork to unmarked cars waiting outside. (Did Federal Officials “Raid” The SAG P&H Plan Offices?) New information reaching me is that this visit took place on Wednesday, March 7th, and not on Friday, March 9th, as I’d previously reported. And a few weeks earlier a man identifying himself as an investigator came into the offices at 4 PM with a copy machine on big dolly and spent 4 to 5 hours Xeroxing documents. And today New England SAG member James McIsaac wrote on Facebook from Massachusetts that “My local pres just confirmed the FBI picked up some papers at the P&HP office.” I’ve received more confirmations that the visits were in connection with official probes into the SAH P&HP wrongdoing.
In my opinion, it’s a day late and a dollar short for the SAG P&H Plan to come clean about exactly what is going on regarding any and all city, county, and/or federal investigations into allegations of embezzlements and cover-ups. (In fact I am in a possession of an internal SAG P&HP memo instructing staff to tell any callers about my article to say, “No, nothing happened on Friday” — because it took place that Wednesday. Talk about parsing!) Nothing worse than if that organizations is accused of trying to cover-up the cover-up of the fraud. And nothing worse than these probes intensifying during the membership vote on the pending SAG-AFTRA merger. Because no future plans for the two unions’ pension and health plans – not even whether they’ll be operated separately or combined — have been revealed or even formally studied by SAG and/or AFTRA leaderships. Present SAG Guild leadership likes to point out that the SAG P&H Plan is run separately from the union. But some of SAG Guild’s officers have been SAG P&HP trustees. For instance, at the time Simmons was fired, David White was President of the Board of Trustees of the SAG P&H Plans and the National Executive Director of the SAG Guild. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is a Trustee of the SAG P&HP and the General Counsel of the SAG Guild. John McGuire is a Trustee of the SAG P&HP and the Senior Adviser of the SAG Guild.
Craig Simmons, of course, is the veteran SAG P&H Plan high-ranking executive and attorney who first discovered what he alleges are several embezzlement schemes and cover-ups inside the organization.
Here’s Michael J. Fox (pro) and Martin Sheen (con), both exclusive to Deadline. See the previous videos from Ed Harris (con) and Modern Family (pro):
The SAG-AFTRA anti-merger camp has set up its own website: http://www.sagaftraminorityreport.com/. This is because SAG leadership won’t let the anti-merger group post on the official Screen Actors …
UPDATE, 12:45 PM: The Screen Actors Guild issued a response saying, in part: “We believe that this suit is completely without merit and we will vigorously defend all claims in court. We are confident that our actions are appropriate and consistent with the law and …
EXCLUSIVE: I now have the official ‘Opposition Statement” (see below, or click here for the .pdf) that will be included in the official referendum package sent to members in good standing voting on the SAG-AFTRA merger. It turns out …
EXCLUSIVE: As the leading background actors casting company in the United States, Burbank-based Central Casting is one of the largest employers of union actors. It was established back in 1925 initially as a wing of the major Hollywood movie studios, and by the 1970s came to dominate the field of extras casting. Last Thursday was ‘Union Day’ at Central Casting, so the pro and con SAG-AFTRA merger camps headed there to stage informational meetings with background actors about the merger. Naturally both sides of this dispute wanted to present their case directly to these background actors because, since 1992 when the Screen Actors Guild absorbed the Screen Extras Guild, they have made up SAG’s most taken-for-granted voting block. But here’s what happened, according to my eyewitness accounts: Central Casting invited the pro-merger camp inside its building for an extended lobbying session. But Central Casting ejected the anti-merger camp from the headquarters. I’m told that a complaint was made after the incident to the U.S. Department Of Labor. This matter raised disturbing questions about just who is for and who is against a SAG-AFTRA merger and why. “If both SAG and AFTRA are loudly claiming that employers are afraid of merger, why did one of the largest employers of union actors open up their business to SAG and AFTRA staff and leadership to tout the ‘benefits’ and ‘leverage’ of merger?” one perturbed actor at the meeting emailed me afterwards. “And, secondly, why is Central Casting getting involved in union business?”
January 31, 2012 – 8:08pm
Dear SAG and AFTRA Members:
As you know, merger referendum ballots are scheduled to be mailed on or about February 27 – but members of both unions
No surprise on the timing of these SAG and AFTRA …