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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Stars Fight Merger of Actors Unions

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Calling it "a blindfolded high dive without knowing whether there is any water in the pool," Martin Sheen, Ed Asner and 66 other actors sued the Screen Actors Guild and its President Ken Howard in Federal Court, fighting the union's attempt to merge with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Sixty-eight SAG members, including Ed Harris and Valerie Harper, are listed as plaintiffs in the complaint against the SAG and six of its officers, including SAG President Ken Howard.

"This case is about a race to merge two unions, without conducting the necessary due diligence," the complaint states. "Defendants are, metaphorically speaking, urging SAG members to take a blindfolded high dive without knowing whether there is any water in the pool."

The SAG represents "over 120,000 acting professionals across the globe," and the AFTRA "is an entirely separate union from SAG and is comprised of 70,000 performers and broadcasters, many of whom do not meet the requirements to be SAG members," according to the complaint. "AFTRA members include broadcasters, journalists, radio, television, voice-over, support staff and other diverse professions."

Sheen and Asner claim, "the defendants are engaged in pre-election activities that threaten to imminently and irrevocably harm plaintiffs and the membership of SAG. ...

"Defendants seek to use their fiduciary authority and credibility as SAG Board members and officers, without the candor and due diligence required of them, to deceptively effect a merger between SAG and AFTRA. This merger is in reality part and parcel of a National Board Election, regulated under 29 U.S.C. § 481. The proposal requires member votes to seat an entirely new slate of Board members and officers, even though it is being perpetrated under the guise of a merger pursuant to Article SVII, Section 3 of the SAG Constitution."

The plaintiffs add: "These actions are being taken in direct violation of SAG Board resolutions, the LMRDA [the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act] election protections, the SAG Constitution and Bylaws ..., defendants' fiduciary duties and the applicable law."

They want the proposed merger, and a SAG-member vote on it, enjoined, until the defendants complete due diligence, including:

an independent study of the actuarial effect of the merger of the unions' pension and health plans;

"full and fair disclosure" of all aspects of the merger; and

"a new and legally valid election procedure, separate and apart from any future merger plan".

The actors allege violations of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, the Labor-Management Relations Act, of breach of California common law fiduciary duties. They are represented by David Casselman, with Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esenstein, of Tarzana.

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