SAG-AFTRA Dissidents Mulling Legal Action To Halt Health Plan Changes


Opponents of changes coming to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan said tonight they are considering legal action to prevent thousands of participants and their family members from losing their health coverage when the sweeping changes take effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

“We have been talking to lawyers. We have been talking to government agencies,” said Patricia Richardson, president of the union’s Los Angeles Local and the host of tonight’s Virtual Union Hall – the second in a series of Zoom meetings organized by leaders of the union’s longtime opposition party. “I can tell you right now, there’s some illegal stuff going on here. There’s certainly a lawsuit. Whether there’s going to be money for the lawsuit is a whole other question.”

“We are in the process of figuring it out,” said David Jolliffe, a national board member and 2nd vice president of the LA Local – who Richardson described as “the Captain” of the meeting and the movement. He said organizers, with input from members, are looking at three basic options: legal, public pressure, and member education and outreach.

On the legal front, he said the options include claims of breach of fiduciary duty, mismanagement, sex discrimination, conflict of interest, and age discrimination – because thousands of retirees 65 and older will have to shift to Medicare, as will their dependents – even those who are under 65 and ineligible for the federal health plan.

Increases to eligibility, premiums, and deductibles were announced last week in the face of staggering deficits caused by skyrocketing health costs and the lack of employer contributions during the COVID shutdown. This year, the actuaries project that the Plan will lose $141 million – and that’s on top of a $48 million deficit in 2018 and $50 million in 2019.

Jolliffe said that grass roots organizers are also considering picketing the union and the Plan. He said a strike is out of the question, and urged fellow dissidents not to show their anger by declaring Financial Core status, which means dropping out of the union and losing their votes. “We are here to fix what we have – not to break it. We need to turn the ship around, not torpedo it. Let’s be good union members.” Coorganizer Shaan Sharma agreed: “The answer is not to dilute the pool of people who want to make change.” They also strongly condemned any talk of a dues boycott. “We need a strong union going in the right direction,” Jolliffe said.

Organizers heard from many of the more than 400 members taking part in the town hall — and about their concerns about losing their union health benefits in the middle of a pandemic, and their ideas about the best next steps forward. Other panelist and speakers included national board members Elliott Gould, Frances Fisher, Debbie Evans, Jodi Long, Joanna Cassidy and Olga Wilhelmine.

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