UPDATED with videos at bottom: The national board of SAG-AFTRA passed resolutions today requiring that members adhere to the union’s Covid-19 safety protocols and “correcting” what it calls “misrepresentations” about changes to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan that will go into effect January 1. The latter is aimed at supporters of a class-action lawsuit who accused the Plan’s trustees of making eligibility changes that will fall hardest on older members — a charge that the trustees vehemently deny.
With respect to coronavirus safety protocols, the board passed an amendment to its membership rules saying that “It shall be the duty of every member to fully comply with workplace safety protocols approved by SAG-AFTRA; it shall be the duty of every member to report to the union any violation by a signatory of any of the union’s collective bargaining agreements,” and that “a charge of violation of this rule filed by a member in good standing…must be based on the member’s in-person observation of the violation.” It adds that “a charge filed by the union shall be based on its investigation of the facts and circumstances.”
“The vast majority of SAG-AFTRA members working on set are consistently and conscientiously protecting themselves and their fellows by following the pandemic protocols laid out in the Return to Work agreement,” said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s chief operating officer and general counsel, who heads the union’s Pandemic Safety and Return to Work initiative. “This new rule makes absolutely clear SAG-AFTRA’s commitment to ensuring that everyone takes on-set safety very seriously, including rules and protocols designed to help prevent the spread of Covid.”
As for the Health Plan, the board approved a resolution — along fractious, internal party lines — stating that the union “will take all appropriate action to ensure that members are not deceived by misrepresentations,” and “condemns those who seek to use the financial challenges to the Health Plan and the related changes to generate fear or anger in furtherance of personal agendas.”
Facing staggering deficits, the Plan, which is a separate entity from the union itself, has said that “without restructuring the Health Plans, we are projecting a deficit of $141 million this year and $83 million in 2021, and by 2024 the Health Plan is projected to run out of reserves.”
A lawsuit filed by 10 members of the union, including former SAG president Ed Asner and Los Angeles Local vice president David Jolliffe, accused the trustees of making changes to the Plan that “illegally discriminate based on age.”
According to the Health Plan, the lawsuit is “entirely without merit. The Board of Trustees has always taken its responsibilities very seriously, consulting with respected and experienced experts in connection with the Health Plan merger and the ongoing design of the Plan. The complaint misrepresents the facts and omits material information about the diligence that preceded the decision to merge as well as the circumstances leading to the recent benefit changes. We will vigorously contest this lawsuit and demonstrate that our actions were fully consistent with our legal responsibilities.”
The Plan today released a set of seven videos about the coming changes; watch them here.
Earlier this month, the union sent an email to its members that that presented “five facts you need to know about changes to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan.” Both sides of the debate accuse the other of “misleading” the union’s members about the causes of the Plan’s troubles and the changes that they say are needed to rescue it.
“We have grown increasingly concerned about the flood of misleading information being spread by certain websites and social media accounts about our Health Plan,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. “Like many scams that target the elderly, the misinformation being spread is endangering our most vulnerable members. By directing Plan participants to unofficial websites rather than the Plan’s official, vetted and accurate website, they are confusing people who need to connect with the Plan to ensure they have appropriately transitioned to their new coverage. Further, efforts to minimize the importance of the 80% COBRA premium discount the Plan is offering for transitioning participants are preventing eligible participants from reaching out to benefit from this crucial transition program.”
“Citing multiple instances in which members, many of them senior performers, reached out about misleading information and accusations regarding the Health Plan changes,” the union said in a statement, “numerous board members from across the country expressed their disappointment with those individuals who are leading the misinformation campaign and outrage with their actions, and urged the board to direct the union to protect its membership by ensuring accuracy around the changes.”
A resolution passed by the board about the “accuracy of information” about the Plan’s changes states:
“Whereas, the upcoming changes to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan are of great importance to the members of SAG-AFTRA and the union itself, and
“Whereas, although the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan is an independent organization that is not controlled by SAG-AFTRA, it is essential that SAG-AFTRA’s members are provided with accurate information about those changes, and
“Whereas, a substantial amount of misinformation has been circulated through social media and other forms of communication, which has left some SAG-AFTRA members with incorrect understandings of the nature of and reasons for the changes, and
“Whereas, some have sought to generate fear in those members through salacious and inaccurate communications;
“Now, therefore, be it resolved by the SAG-AFTRA National Board that SAG-AFTRA will take all appropriate action to ensure that members are not deceived by misrepresentations, and
“Be it further resolved that SAG-AFTRA condemns those who seek to use the financial challenges to the Health Plan and the related changes to generate fear or anger in furtherance of personal agendas.”
The The Plan, meanwhile, released a video today in which actor Adam Arkin addresses the “misinformation, inaccuracies and downright lies” being told about the pending changes to health coverage. “That’s what you’re hearing right now about the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan changes. Don’t buy into it,” he says. “Don’t believe these divisive, false claims that are designed to play on your emotions. Instead, I urge you to get the facts and get the truth.”
See the video here:
Arkin says in the clip:
“So let’s make this simple,” “I have five facts for you. No lies.
“Fact 1. Thousands of senior performers are not suddenly losing their health care coverage. Senior Performers continue to have Medicare as their primary insurance, just as they do now. Yes, the plan that pays after Medicare will change for senior performers, but they can work with Via Benefits to find alternate plans on the Medicare Marketplace.
“Fact 2. Senior performers were never promised “health care coverage for life.” That’s not how the Health Plan works. Pensions are promised and paid for life. Coverage under the Health Plan has been changed over and over. Members must qualify for the coverage by earning a certain amount — each year, and that amount has changed over the years as well. That’s a fact. And the Health Plan booklet says just that.
“Fact 3. Spouses aren’t getting kicked off the plan and losing their health coverage. If you’re eligible and your spouse DOES NOT have access to their own employer’s health plan, they can still be covered by the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan.
“Fact 4. There’s a new, strong COBRA safety net for those who don’t qualify for coverage. Many participants are eligible to maintain their Plan coverage (under Plan I or II) with significantly reduced COBRA premiums for up to 12 to 18 months after their current eligibility expires. The Health Plan is offering these heavily subsidized COBRA premiums to give people time to find alternate coverage options.
“Fact 5. The Health Plan Trustees aren’t being dishonest about the changes. It’s actually the opposite. They had to make tough decisions — to save the Plan and they have been upfront about it.
“Without these changes, our Plan’s reserves would have been used up by 2024 – which would have threatened all members’ health care coverage. Does anyone want that? And don’t listen to those who say the Trustees could have simply ‘fixed’ the Plan by charging higher premiums or getting more employer contributions during negotiations. That’s not accurate. The problem isn’t how much money is coming in, it’s how much is going out.
We wish the Health Plan could control the soaring costs associated with a broken American healthcare system. But it can’t, that’s not reality.
“So here’s my advice: Don’t listen to lies. Get the truth. Visit the Health Plan’s website at sagaftraplans.org/health/2021changes. You’ll find clear, honest and accurate information. You’ll find the facts. Thank you.”
Opponents of the changes, meanwhile, have their own star-studded video, which accuses the union and the Plan’s trustees of having “betrayed” their older members. Among those featured in the video are Morgan Freeman, Amy Schumer, Martin Sheen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Connie Stevens, Mark Hamill, Matthew Modine, Frances Fisher, Leslie Ann Warren and numerous others.
Below are some comments from the opposition’s video, which you can watch here:
Ed Asner: “They can’t get away with this. This is criminal.”
Whoopi Goldberg: “Why isn’t the union fighting for me? I paid into the Health Plan my whole career. I’m really pissed about it.”
Elliot Gould: “I feel betrayed.”
Carol Kane: “It’s obscene.”
Shirley Jones put her displeasure with the changes even more bluntly: “It’s bullshit!”
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