SAG Merger Opponents File Suit to Prevent Vote

Opponents to the merger include Ed Harris, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper and Martin Sheen

Last Updated: February 22, 2012 @ 11:26 AM

Opponents of the Screen Actors Guild's proposed merger with the American Federation of Television & Radio Actors filed a lawsuit Wednesday to stop the union from calling for a vote on the plan.

The suit charges that SAG's board of directors breached its fiduciary duties by failing to conduct a study detailing the effects of the proposed merger on SAG's pension and health benefits.

Among the 68 SAG members listed as plaintiffs are Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Valerie Harper, Diane Ladd, Edward Asner, Joe Bologna and Nancy Sinatra. 

Asner and fellow co-plaintiff Alan Rosenberg both served as presidents of the guild. 

“We have spent almost two months negotiating with SAG in an effort to get them to present the truth regarding this merger plan. Member are entitled to full disclosure, not half truths and misleading and unsupported promises,” David B. Casselman, an attorney for the opponents, said in a statement. 

Also read: SAG Merger Opponents Weigh Legal Action

The suit was filed in federal court in Los Angeles. 

A spokeswoman for SAG did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Before the suit was filed, SAG and AFTRA were scheduled to send merger referendum ballots to members on Feb. 27. Ballots were scheduled to be returned by March 30.

Opponents of the plan to join the two unions allege that SAG has been dishonest about the reduction in benefits that will occur if it merges with AFTRA. 

Proponents of the plan argue 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.

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

The opponents also are suing SAG officers Ken Howard, Amy Aquino, Ned Vaughn, Mike Hodge and David Hartley-Margolin. Howard is SAG's president, Aquino is its secretary-treasurer, Vaughn is 1st vice president, Hodge is 2nd vice president and Hartley-Margolin is its 3rd vice president.

The lawsuit says that the merger "is being presented in a deceptive manner, without due diligence, as if it is in the best interest of each and every member. Defendants know the truth and are refusing, even upon request, to provide neutral, balance (sic) factual disclosures, required them."

It says the union officers "have ignored their obligations … promoting a merger while obfuscating the truth."

The lawsuit asks the court to stop the vote over the merger until the unions complete an independent study of the effects on their benefits plans. 

It also raises a number of other concerns.

It claims the merger would impose an entire slate of new joint union board members and officers, while prohibiting opposing candidates from running.

"By the time negative consequences are realized, they will be irreversible. The harmful impact of such actions will produce numerous, substantial and justified liability claims," the suit reads.