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SAG Merger Opponents Weigh Legal Action

Dissidents claim that the SAG-AFTRA merger proposal features incorrect and dishonest claims

Anger over a proposed merger between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists may spark a federal court challenge.

Opponents of the proposal tell TheWrap that they are planning to file for a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary and permanent injunction that would prevent SAG from sending out a ballot to its members.

The group is waiting to see if the union will modify language in the merger proposal that it plans to send out to members before it takes legal action. It may file as early as next Tuesday. 

Unless an injunction goes into effect, SAG and AFTRA will send merger referendum ballots to members on Feb. 27. Ballots are scheduled to be returned by March 30.

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Roughly 100 SAG members who oppose the merger have retained the services of David Casselman of Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esensten to represent them.

“It is not just that the members are not getting all of the facts," Casselman told TheWrap. "The message SAG is sending is often partially true, but overall it is deceptive and misleading.”

In particular, they claim that as currently written, the merger package glazes over the financial impact that joining the two unions will have on members’ health and pension plans. They claim that SAG’s leadership is falsely claiming that it has studied the effect that joining with AFTRA will have on benefits.

“If you put these two union pension and health plans together, the experts tell us that the richer benefits now enjoyed by SAG members will almost certainly decline," Casselman said. "But to avoid losing votes, the union is implying that they had a series of lawyers study the numbers and there will be no reduction in member benefits."

"That is simply not true," he added. "They did not do an actuarial study, which is what was required. They have no basis to claim that future benefits would be safe.”

Also read: Protestors Gather Outside SAG Office to Slam AFTRA Merger

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG's general counsel, hit back at the claims that the union was giving short shrift to the anti-merger group, noting that the opposition is allowed to submit a position paper as part of the packet. 

"These complaints are without merit," he said. "The information that has been and will be presented to the membership by SAG and AFTRA is both accurate and comprehensive, and includes unprecedented detail."

Crabtree-Ireland pointed out that the packet included a 36-page feasibility report for members to review as part of the package.

“Throughout this extensive process, the board has protected the interests of our broad-based and diverse membership," he added. "The members of the national board endorse a merger between SAG and AFTRA and believe that it clearly and unequivocally furthers the interests of the membership.”

SAG's leadership maintains that the merged union will have more bargaining leverage with studios and other employers — a key factor in hammering out future agreements and ensuring richer pacts for its membership.

The boards of both unions approved the merger at the end of January. For the merger to take place, however, at least 60 percent of votes cast from each union must favor the consolidation. A previous attempt in 2003 to meld the two labor groups went down to defeat on a full union vote.

The potential lawsuit is not the only evidence this week that a faction of SAG members remain vehemently opposed to joining the two unions. On Thursday, roughly 35 SAG members gathered outside the union’s Los Angeles office to protest the merger, waving signs and handing out pamphlets. They plan a similar demonstration next, although the protest is being organized independently from any legal challenge.