MF CLAIM #1: Pension Caps and Early Retirement
Currently, the Staff has a pension cap of $220,000 annually at age 65 based upon their best 5 consecutive earning years over 20 years. The Staff can retire with their full pension benefits at age 65, or with a 30% reduction at age 55, unless they are maxed out in which case they receive the full amount.
This means that if a Staff member is maxed out, they can retire at the following amounts.
Age 55: Annual amount of $220,000, or $18,333.33 per month.
Age 65: Annual amount of $220,000, or $18,333.33 per month.
In comparison, the members have a pension cap of $96,000 at age 65 based upon all earnings over a 35 year period. The members can retire with their full pension benefits at age 65, or with a 30% reduction at age 55.
This means that if a member is maxed out, they can retire at the following amounts.
Age 55: Annual amount of $67,200, or $5,600.00 per month.
Age 65: Annual amount of $96,000, or $8,000.00 per month.
This statement is factually inaccurate, and also misrepresents and distorts reality. The claim above has overstated the actual maximum possible early retirement pension for our most long-tenured and highly compensated staff by almost $7,000 per month! And even so, fewer than a handful of union staff have ever earned that consecutive amount – EVER – and only those of our longest-serving, top-tier staff could ever actually approach the maximum pension amount. And remember, those are professionals who devote their entire careers to protecting our membership.
In actual practice, the average staff pension for our professional staff is just over $36,000 - nowhere near the maximum. In fact, the pension received by the overwhelming majority of our staff will be far below the member maximum.
To achieve the theoretical maximum pension for a staff retiree, an employee would have to have at least 20 years of service to our members, with 5 years of consecutive annual salary of more than $280,000.
MF CLAIM #2: Staff Accrual Rate vs. Performers
At the suggestion of senior SAG staff, SAG-PPHP agreed to cover staff who work for SAG. Both staff and SAG members accrued benefits at the rate of 3.5% with member contributions coming from Producers, and staff contributions coming from membership dues.
Plan Trustees decided to diminish actors' accrual rate from 3.5% to 2%, without informing members that staff would remain at the 3.5% accrual rate. This resulted in an approximate 43% reduction in accrual rates for each working actor/participant. Why was there no reduction imposed on staff? Why only the actors? This not only affects the fiduciary health of every union member, it also undermines the fiduciary health of the P&H Plan due to lost revenue.
To save members the administrative fees of staff's separate pension plan, staff was rolled into ours, eliminating those fees. A big savings for us—over $2 million a year! Then the perfect storm of 2008 hit — the national crash of course, but compounded by the failure of Membership First leadership to negotiate the TV/Theatrical contract which led to the loss of TV contributions.
Let’s remember why our pension plan is funded less than 80% in the first place. In 2008, under the leadership of Membership First, SAG took two big financial hits due to bad decisions by union leaders. First, with no plan or exit strategy, they refused to negotiate a new TV/Theatrical contract with studios for approximately a year, which lost SAG members over $100 million in pay raises and SAG Pension benefit contributions. At that time both staff and members had the same accrual rate (3.5%). Second, Membership First lost television to AFTRA. While they sat, nearly EVERY new television show went to AFTRA and so did their pension contributions for the full, multi-year life of the TV show. As a result, SAG plans took an almost catastrophic financial hit due to a plunge in contributions from losing TV. This was in addition to the financial market crash in 2008, which affected all the industry’s pension plans. Other plans lost money because of the crash, but SAG lost TWICE because of television, and we are paying the price for it now.
Here is an article from The Hollywood Reporter detailing how the 2008-09 SAG Stalemate deeply impaired the health of the SAG Pension Plan:
In order to keep the plans on stable footing, the Trustees elected to temporarily lower members’ accrual rate to 2% with the long-term goal of raising it back to 3.5%. The trustees decided not to apply this reduction to union staff, which may seem one-sided but this decision was actually made for reasons that ultimately benefit our membership. Here’s how:
First, when we lower staff benefits, we have to make up the difference in their compensation with higher salaries, which comes from member dues. Keeping staff benefits stable helps to keep member dues focused on member services and contract enforcement.
Until 2004, staff benefits were provided through private insurers at significant cost to the union’s general treasury. That meant it was OUR dues money paying for staff pension contributions. SAG-PPHP agreed to cover our union’s staff as the union was bleeding money as a result of rapidly expanding staff benefit costs. With tens of thousands of members and only several hundred staff, the additional cost of staff pensions is low compared to the overall cost of the pension plan (in fact, staff make up less than 2% our retirees). In fact, at the time, plan staff analyzed the change and determined that due to the small size of the union staff group, there would be no impact whatsoever on member benefit structure resulting from maintaining the staff’s accrual rate. This was a tremendous benefit to members as it reduced substantially the amount of member dues money that the union had to spend to pay for staff benefits, and freed up money for our union to focus on members.
Second, to change staff benefits could trigger legal liability for the union, which is the sole employer of our staff. When the decision was made to move staff benefits to SAG-PPHP, commitments were made to the then-current employees of SAG, almost half of whom were also represented by their own unions, with compensation and benefit structures built into their collective bargaining agreements. Those commitments will have to be honored by the union, regardless of the state of the plans.
Third and most importantly, having good benefits for our employees remains our best protection to stop producers from poaching our best staff. We don’t want our union to be the training camp for the studios. In the past 5 years, Netflix, CBS, NBC and others have lured our staff away (after we spent years and money to train them in the business) with higher salaries, big bonuses, and company stock. This is not good for members. Having an excellent benefits package for our staff — the people who negotiate and enforce your contracts, protect and distribute your residuals and look out for you in myriad other ways — helps us retain them in the face of competition from studios, advertisers, law firms, and other companies that pay higher salaries and offer better perks than a union will ever be able to offer.
Our union trustees understood the complexity of these issues, and the fact that most of our staff don’t stay at the union for their entire career or earn a pension that is anywhere near the maximum possible pension amount. We should all understand the tremendous benefit to members to have great benefits for our staff at minimal cost to the union and limited costs to the Plans.
MF CLAIM #3: Split Earnings
Performers continue to suffer from our earnings being split into TWO pension Plans.
Because of Membership First’s disastrous mistake of losing nearly every television show to AFTRA when they were in leadership, the problem of split earnings was exacerbated. If the unions hadn’t merged, as Membership First urged and even sued to prevent, we wouldn’t have already solved half of this problem, creating SAG-AFTRA Health and ending split earnings affecting your health coverage. Let’s not forget Membership First did NOTHING to fix this problem that they created through their disastrously incompetent handling of the TV/Theatrical negotiations.
We are still paying the price of their mistake. To fix this problem, after merging the health plans, the trustees are focused on the harder problem of bringing together the pension plans. Why is this a harder problem? Because federal law protects all pension plans (which is good for members) and prevents any change that will harm retirees. Therefore, the trustees must figure out how to bring together two very different plans without hurting pensioners while, at the same time, maximizing the long-term funding of the two existing plans, and that of any new plan they establish.
The SAG pension plan and AFTRA retirement fund have two separate, completely different structures. There is no simple way to combine the two although there are many models of how to do so. One, they could freeze the existing plans and start a new one. Two, they could keep the existing plans and combine them into a single plan. Three, they could keep the existing plans and establish a bridge between the two for those impacted by split earnings. Each of these ideas and others have advantages and disadvantages. Any final plan will have to be agreed upon by the trustees of both plans, and remember that 50% of each plan's trustees represent management (our employers). We have only half the trustees representing the union. To correct a recent post by MF, our union trustees cannot win the vote by convincing one employer trustee to cross the divide. They decide as a block. There is no easy way to go about this and, while we all want it to happen quickly, it is understandable that the trustees are being very careful and deliberate with this process.
MF CLAIM #4: Health of SAG Pension Plan
The SAG Pension Plan is in imminent danger and currently underfunded at 76.96%.
The plan is in the GREEN ZONE. This Green Zone certification was determined by federal law, Under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014. http://servicesagaftra.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1810/~/sag-producers-pension-plan-frequently-asked-questions
It is also true that as the huge number of baby boomers come into retirement and as advances in health care mean that many of us are living longer, the pressure on pension plans are greater than ever before. But unlike many other pension plans across the country, the SAG pension plan is projected to be 100% funded in approximately the next 10 years, which is why it is considered healthy and has been certified in the Green Zone, which is the metric established by the Pension Protection Act and is the highest zone status under the law.
We all want our pension plans to be 100% funded but, following the market crash of 2008 and the loss of television contributions due to Membership First’s failure to negotiate the TV Theatrical contract, it is not unreasonable that it takes time for us to get there. This is why it is absolutely critical to avoid bad mistakes that compound market pressures and pressures coming from changing demographics (like people living longer). Leadership matters and we cannot afford any more mistakes from Membership First.
MF CLAIM #5: Pension Performance
In the last 5 years our pension has lost about 7% during the biggest market boom in history.
This statement reflects a profound misunderstanding of how SAG-Producers Pension Plan invests the money that pays for our benefits. Remember the financial collapse of 2008? Our plan was better protected than most others throughout the country because the investment strategies adopted by our trustees are designed to grow the Plan’s assets during good times, protect them during bad times and to NOT follow the peaks and valleys of the stock market. A big drop in funding due to a market crash has a MUCH bigger, negative impact on our plans than modest, annual investment returns from a prudent investment strategy. Conservative investments still grow over time, and keep us better protected.
With pension plan assets of more than $3 billion, we should be glad that our trustees have pursued a prudent investment philosophy for the long term protection of our assets and participants. Investing in the roller coaster stock market, especially during a time when many investors believe that a market decline is imminent, is reckless. More reckless decision-making by Membership First is the last thing we need to protect our pension plan.
MF CLAIM #6: Pension Inequality
You, as a Member Participant, have to wait 10 years longer to retire with full benefits and receive thousands of dollars less than our Staff. Below is an example:
SAG member: Working from age 35 to 55. Earning $50,000 per year. Retiring at age 55. Gets $14,000 per year. (30% reduction in benefit from age 65 to 55)
AFTRA member: Working from age 35 to 55. Earning $50,000 per year. Retiring at age 55. Gets $4,000 per year. (60% reduction in benefit from age 65 to 55)
Staff member: Working from age 35 to 55. Earning $50,000 per year. Retiring at age 55. Gets $35,000 per year. (NO reduction in benefit at age 55.)
* The preceding is based on a Staff accrual rate of 3.5% versus the SAG member participant rate of 2%. And the AFTRA member participant rate of approximately 1%.
THE RULE OF 75: This is an additional benefit for Staff who have a combination of Age-and-Service that adds up to 75. (20 years of service at 55 years of age would be 75.) When a Staff person hits the Rule of 75 a whole new deal appears: Here, the Staff person receives a pension benefit equal to their last 5 years of earnings averaged, with a maximum annual benefit of $225,000. The SAG Members’ annual maximum is $96,000 at age 65 with 35 vested years.
The “Rule of 75” is available to those staff members who have devoted most or all of their career to the protection of our membership, and very few of our staff have used this benefit. It is arguably one of the best ways to retain those of our employees who are the most attractive to studios and other employers — the employees in whom we have invested years of training and are at the height of their career path. The Rule of 75 is a big reason for them to choose to stay at the union and NOT to use their training to leave for studios who will pay salaries, bonuses, stock options and other management perks. Ironically, most employees that stay do NOT actually take advantage of this offered benefit. They keep working until retirement and some key staff have thankfully stayed until well after the age of 65. The fact that only a few of our employees use the Rule of 75 means that our membership gets the benefit of retaining key employees at minimal costs to our union or to our plans. Also, limitations on this benefit make it of most value to our lower-compensated staff. Our highest compensated staff’s early retirement benefits are reduced in a manner similar to that applied to members.
MYTHBUSTER: Can SAG-AFTRA unilaterally control the pension and health plans?
In short, no. The Pension and Health plans are entirely separate from SAG-AFTRA.
50% of the trustees on all three plans (SAG-AFTRA HEALTH, SAG Pension and AFTRA Retirement) are union appointed. Management (AMPTP, JPC) has the other 50%, which means agreements have to be made between both sides to make changes to the plans.
In other words, the union trustees and management trustees must negotiate changes to these plans: they are not unilaterally decided solely by the union’s trustees.
The National Board appoints our union-side trustees through nomination and voting. The names of the trustees are on each of the different plan pages under the “about” tabs.
Being a trustee requires the member to accept personal financial responsibility for any malfeasance to these plans: it is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, which speaks volumes for the integrity that comprises our trustees. We have past presidents, past secretary-treasurers, past officers, members-at-large and a few executive staff on our trustee side.
Trustees must also participate in continuing trustee education.
MF CLAIM #1: Owning vs Renting SAG-AFTRA Offices
A staggering $6 million per year is being spent on renting our SAG-AFTRA offices in Los Angeles alone. Many more millions of dollars are wasted annually on office rents around the country. Additionally, our membership’s money has been wasted renovating offices that we do not own.
In order to purchase a building, we must first ensure that contract enforcement, contract negotiations, and building a solid reserve fund are in place.
Membership First’s track record of poor decision making has far reaching financial consequences and this is another example of how their irresponsible leadership in the past has limited our current options. Membership First fails to recognize that it is their own failures that have heretofore made purchasing an impossibility. When MF was leading SAG, they put the union in a deep financial hole. After Merger with AFTRA we have been slowly and steadily repairing the union’s finances and building a reserve fund so that we are prepared in the event of a strike.
SAG-AFTRA has completed initial research and found that there are no buildings to house our headquarters that are big enough, affordable, and offer easy accessibility to the membership.
SAG-AFTRA will continue to evaluate the feasibility of purchasing a building, but in the meantime our current lease is below market and a responsible expenditure of our funds. It is centrally located, close to the studios, and easily accessible to a substantial portion of the membership.
SAG-AFTRA is a nationwide union with 25 locals and offices throughout the country.
MF CLAIM #2: SAG-AFTRA Staff Salaries
Normally, you are given an annual cost of living raise of 3.5%, but many staff members are receiving an average annual raise of 9%.
Membership First knows they are only giving some of the information. They know that these figures include rolling cost of living adjustments, as well as one-time payouts of accrued time off like vacation and any other salary adjustments (promotions, etc.) to get to their 9% average.
Additionally, just posting the salaries without context of what employees who do comparable work at other organizations or within our industry make is completely misleading. These figures should be compared to other entertainment unions salaries — where they are are either on par or often less than what a similar employee at the DGA might get paid, and are substantially lower than what someone can make at the studios.
An example is that a former manager who left SAG-AFTRA went to CBS and left CBS for Netflix is making over $750k, more than doubling their salary. Partners at law firms make over $1m.
Gabrielle Carteris used insider information to take credit for SAG-AFTRA’s new deal with Netflix and used union resources to promote her candidacy via official SAG-AFTRA videos.
Here’s another distraction of an issue — Membership First cannot attack the actual Netflix deal because it is an overwhelming success. Clearly they are uncomfortable focusing on Gabrielle’s actual record. They don’t have a record of success of their own to discuss, in fact, quite to the contrary they have a record of multiple failures so they resort to these kind of concocted process issues.
Gabrielle didn’t use insider information. Members who are involved in serving don’t stop their union participation just because they are running for office. The president still volunteers for hours almost every day because the work of the members of this union continues.
As the president she was looped in on the negotiations; it was taken before the TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee where it passed overwhelmingly. The enthusiastic approval of the TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee was established well before the candidate statement deadline. Since this committee is diverse both geographically and ideologically, there was a clear indication that the National Board would acknowledge this agreement as a major achievement as well. Regardless of the outcome, our members would have been informed of this significant development.
The 2017 negotiated SVOD increases in residuals only counted towards newly licensed shows (NOT episodes). If you work on a high budget SVOD Amazon show like “Bosch” that has been in production for 4 years, you will never see any benefits from the 2017 increases. Your residuals on these shows will be forever calculated and based on exceptionally low and poorly bargained rates. The concept that only new shows, NOT new episodes of existing shows, get newly bargained increases has never happened before in our union’s history and we will not let it happen again. Same work should receive the same pay. These degrading residual formulas starve your wallet and starve the pension and health plan.
EVERY new negotiated contract only applies to projects that are created AFTER the negotiated contract. The difference here is that SVOD platforms license differently than networks. But the same concept still applies.
SVOD platforms work differently than standard Network and Cable TV shows, where shows will run maybe once on Network and then get sold off to various other platforms. Our task – which we are quickly achieving — is to create residual structures that reflect a show staying on the same platform for several years. We are beginning to see network-like residuals coming from streaming shows.
Background Actors are not protected nationally under all SAG-AFTRA contracts. In addition, they do not have a guaranteed seat on the National Board, as do all other categories.
It’s important to actually listen to the members. A survey was sent out to the Los Angeles membership asking if members would change their membership to a new category of Background Performer if one was created. The members emphatically and overwhelming rejected by 99.46% the notion of changing their member category which could have led to the creation of a dedicated background seat. No matter what, we respect the will of the members and out of the 65,257 members surveyed, only 350 members wanted to go this direction.
Different contracts have different coverage. Because of the disintegration of the Screen Extras Guild, a West Coast guild, Screen Actors Guild subsumed the jurisdiction of West Coast background performers in 1992 with limited zones for TV/Theatrical work. In this way, background performers were not stranded without union representation. According to the law, adding jurisdiction is a non-mandatory subject of bargaining, meaning it is illegal to strike over that area. Consequently, we are investigating ways to organize background work local by local.
Dancers are losing contract benefits, wages, penalties and set safety consideration. And MF will push for a Dance Coordinator on all sets.
If MF had reached out to dancers active in the union, they would have told them that dancers do not need a dance coordinator on sets, but instead coverage for choreographers in the contract. Dancers aren't losing contract benefits, wages or penalties; they would benefit from increased enforcement. Covering choreographers will make a pathway for choreographer accountability in helping to enforce all contract safety provisions for dancers on set.
The current leadership uses the “cloak of confidentiality” to limit your ability to know what is actually going on and limits the ability to tell you. For 20 years there has been a “Minority Report” Rule ensuring that when 25% or more of the National Board voted against a contract, the Minority could send out a “Minority Report.” The current leadership raised the threshold to 33%, making it even harder to get the pros and cons of a contract presented to you.
In unions, minority reports are a rarity. The premise in not having them is that, in a representative democracy, members elect leaders who have the right to promote actions that they feel advance the best interests of the members. It is not incumbent upon those leaders to use union resources to promote the views of those that the members did not elect. Given the proliferation of cost-free social media avenues of communication, there is no shortage of means for the minority to communicate their views.
When the members voted to merge the two unions by 80+%, new governing documents were written. In April 2013, the SAG-AFTRA National Board unanimously approved (meaning members from all political stripes) a policy regarding the RATIFICATION OF NATIONAL MULTI-EMPLOYER COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS which did not provide for a minority report in the initial language. So in fact, despite Membership First’s claims there was a 25% threshold for the last twenty years, there was no mention of minority report from 2012 until 2018 in SAG-AFTRA.
In fact, a guideline was added in October 2018, during the presidency of Gabrielle Carteris, that would require an automatic discussion of a minority report with a rebuttal if opposition in the National Board reached 33%, or one third. That guideline for discussion is mandatory. However, at any time a motion could be made to consider a minority report. No such motion has been made to date since merger, nor to date has there been substantial opposition to any contract that has garnered enough support in the boardroom to engage the mandatory provision for discussion.
In the past, Minority Reports have been riddled with inaccuracies and false claims. Without a means to make sure that Minority Reports are legitimate and based on facts rather than fiction and spin, some sort of mechanism will have to come into effect.
National Board members can serve without ever qualifying for a pension, who have nothing financial at stake and are permitted to vote on the financial matters of those who have 20 to 50 years vested.
This sentiment comes up from time to time. The accusation generally comes from people who have movie and TV credits and are dismissing those who may have commercial, voiceover and background careers. It is divisive. In addition, this would restrict younger members from serving on the National Board, since they are likely to be building credits toward vesting. Fresh voices and perspectives are the lifeblood of our union's future.
In any case, any sort of standard income requirement for service at the union could quickly run into conflict with labor law, as we are required to be as inclusive as possible.