[second in a series by actor/blogger Gil Christner]
There are other reasons that I am hesitant to vote yes on this current merger proposal. To be honest, the biggest of these other reasons is purely selfish: I want my pension! (and I’d like to keep the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Health Plan, one of the premiere health insurance plans in the country!)
There is no literal way to know one way or the other how the merging of the two separate health and pension plans of the two unions would play out (unless you know Dr. Who or Bill & Ted). However, one can make educated guesses, based on current and past realities. The Pro-Merger contingent argues that a combined merger, and by implication, a combined health and pension plan, would be obviously stronger. But there many many experts that would take exception to that vague idea, or at least raise some alarm bells about taking it as fact.
Variety reports on the lawsuit filed by the Minority Opposition view to stop (or at least, disregard) this week’s ballot until a comprehensive actuarial report can be made on the pros and cons of merging the two health and pension plans:
Monday's filings by the opponents included a declaration by Alex H. Brucker, an attorney with three decades of experience in employee pension and health plans, that blasted SAG for asserting that merging the unions and the plans would "only benefit" participants and that "merger is the best way to protect our benefits."
"These are not supportable statements of fact," Brucker said.
Merger backers contend that combining SAG and AFTRA will make it easier to combine the plans as a first step toward resolving the problem that performers face in making contributions to the separate plans and then not meeting the earnings qualifications. Brucker said in his declaration that the question of merging SAG and AFTRA is "indistinguishable" from the question of merging the plans and can't be considered separately.
"It is my opinion, based on my careful consideration of this issue, that a plan merger raises complex issues, could create serious problems and conflicts and could result in loss of benefits for both SAG and AFTRA members," Brucker said. "The precise impact on plan benefits (or required member and co-sponsor contributions) cannot be properly assessed without an ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) Impact Report."
Yet the pro-merger side cites very few experts in defense of their position.
In fact, in the official “Feasibility Report,” the only evidence put forth by the two unions are 7 letters from various lawyers around the country (including one co-counsel to the AFTRA plan; more on that below), which state that (a) merger of the two plans is legal, (b) mergers of plans of other unions have happened in the past and (c) many times those plans prosper after merger.
Nobody I know has even questioned the truth of a, b or c. However what is missing is a specific estimation of what might happen (the positives and the negatives) if these two specific plans were to merge.
In fact, the trustees of the AFTRA plan themselves doubt that it would be easy or simple or perhaps even advisable, denying the above-mentioned Plan co-counsel’s involvement:
Recently, a document entitled "Feasibility Review" was posted on the SAG and AFTRA websites and purported to discuss the feasibility of a merger of the AFTRA and SAG health and pension plans. This document contained the opinion of various lawyers stating, among other things, that there are no legal impediments to merging the plans. Included among the legal opinions was one from co-counsel to the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds, Jani Rachelson.
The Board of Trustees of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds wishes to make it absolutely clear that the opinions expressed in this "Feasibility Review" in no way represent the opinion of AFTRA H&R’s Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees did not request or authorize this opinion of Fund co-counsel and had no prior knowledge of this letter before reading the posting on the websites.
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.
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.
But the icing on the cake of my “No” vote in regards to the health and pension comes in the form of the last
, most recent feasibility study of possible plan merger.
This is the infamous Mercer Report
, done in 2003 when the unions were again considering joining together as one.
This report raised several questions in 2003 about the supposed benefits of merging the two plans. It raised enough questions that the trustees of the SAG pension plan to deem merger “unacceptable.”
Though I have no specific knowledge of the two plans’ viability together or separate, I can’t honest believe that economic conditions have improved so much since then that what was deemed economically unviable in 2003 would now be considered smooth sailing to easy street in 2012.
[More Later. Part 1 can be read here]