SATURDAY UPDATE, 10:48 AM: The union says that it will “vigorously respond in the appropriate forum in due course” to the suit filed Friday by former SAG president Ed Asner and others over $110 million in undistributed residuals and royalties. Claiming that they are “proud” and “confident” in their foreign royalties program, SAG-AFTRA admit they haven’t actually seen the filing itself. Still, based on previous correspondence with the plaintiffs, the union calls the claims “completely without merit.” Read statement here:
We are very proud of, and confident in, our unclaimed residuals and foreign royalties programs which distribute millions of dollars to performers every year. The foreign royalties program has successfully distributed to performers more than $14 million — money that would otherwise go uncollected and be lost to them forever. The foreign royalties program was previously subject to a class action lawsuit that resulted in a resolution favorable to the union after intense scrutiny of the program. While we have not been provided with a copy of the current complaint, the claims as presented in the plaintiff’s earlier correspondence have been thoroughly reviewed and are completely without merit. We will vigorously respond in the appropriate forum in due course.
PREVIOUS FRIDAY PM: Actors Ed Asner, Clancy Brown, Dennis Hayden, and George Coe are among the 15 plaintiffs who filed suit today in federal court against SAG-AFTRA for not properly disbursing $110 million in foreign residuals they say have not been paid out. Asner is the former SAG president (1981-1985) who very publicly opposed the SAG-AFTRA merger along with other ex-union board members. The 52-page filing (read it here) also claims that the merged union has deliberately withheld information and kept the money in trust and spent portions on first class travel and lavish parties and big salaries for current union officials. “Plaintiffs have reason to believe that SAG-AFTRA has now amassed a substantial slush fund that does not belong to the labor organization but instead belongs to members and non-members, and/or their estates, on covered and uncovered works,” says Friday’s filing. Requesting a jury trial, the plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages as well as injunctive relief and an order by the court that would stop the union from being able to collect overseas royalties. Instead, the suit proposes a separate “independent body” established to handle the funds in the future.
Today’s action follows a request made to SAG-AFTRA back in September 2012 for a full accounting of the collection of the foreign funds. Asner was one of the plaintiffs in an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit in early 2012 to get a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop SAG from calling for a vote on the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger. Clancy Brown and George Coe were also plaintiffs in that suit and are plaintiffs today, too. All were also on the losing side in an effort to stop SAG and AFTRA becoming one union. Members passed the union merger overwhelming on March 30, 2012. The Burbank law firm of Helena S. Wise represents the plaintiffs.