Entertainment Industry

Category: Labor

SAG pension and health plans chief Bruce Dow resigns

Bruce Dow, the beleaguered chief executive of the Screen Actors Guild pension and health plans, has resigned.

Dow, who had been on a medical leave of absence since January, was expected to step down in the wake of a mounting controversy over a lack of financial control of an organization that controls more than $2 billion in assets on behalf of the Screen Actors Guild's 125,000-plus members.

The board of trustees for the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension and Health Plans said in a statement that it had appointed Chris Dowdell, the current chief operating officer, as interim CEO.

"It is with great regret that we accept our CEO Bruce Dow's decision," the statement said. "For the last 28 years, Bruce has been instrumental in assisting the trustees in designing and managing many of the benefit programs actors enjoy today."

U.S. Labor Department officials have been investigating reports that another former senior pension plans executive allegedly embezzled millions of dollars by receiving kickbacks from several companies that did business with the funds.

After an audit in early 2009, SAG-PPHP sued two vendors involved in the alleged scheme. In one of the cases, an arbitrator awarded the plans nearly $2.5 million in damages, which a court approved. The plans said most of the money was recovered from an insurance claim.

The alleged embezzlement scheme surfaced publicly in a complaint that former Human Resources Director Craig Simmons filed in September with the Labor Department. In his complaint, Simmons contended that he had been wrongfully terminated in March 2011 partly for raising questions about the alleged embezzlement and for raising questions about Dow's conduct, including allegations that Dow steered business to his wife's insurance company, USI of Southern California.

The board of trustees later said an independent investigator had found that most of Simmons' allegations were false and told SAG members that the fiscal integrity of the plans "remains sound and your benefits are secure." There was no finding by the board that Dow was involved in a coverup.

RELATED:

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Ex-SAG pension exec steered fund money to spouse's firm

Bruce Dow takes leave of SAG's health and pension plans

-- Richard Verrier

Sony Pictures Imageworks workers take steps to unionize

A group of visual effects artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks, one of the leading visual effects companies, is mounting a campaign to unionize.

"We are artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks, the first group of visual effects artists that is taking a stand and attempting to organize under a collective  bargaining agreement,'' read a statement from SpiUnion blog, which was set up by workers at Imageworks who are seeking unions benefits, such as health insurance, that are shared by many of their colleagues who work on animated movies at Sony.

On Friday, officials from the Animation Guild Local 839 and its parent, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, will meet with Imageworks employees at the Culver Hotel to answer questions about joining the union. The animation guild already represents animation workers at Sony.

Sony Pictures Imageworks employs about 400 to 500 workers, at least one third of whom must sign petition cards seeking to be represented by a union before federal labor officials will consider holding an election.

IATSE President Matt Loeb said last year that extending union contracts to the visual effects industry was a top priority, but the campaign did not gain much traction. Employers have argued that providing union benefits would drive up costs, making it harder for them to compete in an increasingly global marketplace, where more work is already being handled in cities such as Vancouver, London and Mumbai, India.

An Imageworks spokesman said the company "respects the employees' right to consider union representation," but had no further comment.

Supporters say workers deserve benefits shared by their peers at a time when visual effects have become increasingly important to the commercial success of movies.

"We need health insurance that will carry us through downtimes now more than ever before,'' SpiUnion says on its blog. "We are not second class citizens. We sacrifice, work hard, and make good movies we should all be proud of. We are not a commodity, we have talent, we have value."

RELATED:

IATSE and the studios reach a new contract

Healthcare costs to dominate IATSE, AMPTP talks

Matt Loeb of IATSE charting a more aggressive path

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man in "The Amazing Spider-Man." Credi: Jaimie Trueblood/Sony Pictures.

Kim Roberts Hedgpeth to step down as co-director of SAG-AFTRA

Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, the longtime leader of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is stepping down as a co-national executive director of the newly merged union, SAG-AFTRA.

"It was with great pride and enormous satisfaction that I joined union members, colleagues and staff on March 30 to celebrate the overwhelming vote in favor of AFTRA and SAG,'' Hedgpeth said. "Having achieved this important goal, for which many of us worked so tirelessly for so many years, now is the right moment to begin a new chapter in life."Hedpeth

Hedgpeth, who will leave her post April 30, has served as AFTRA's national executive director since 2005. But her future was cast into question once AFTRA and SAG members voted on March 30 to merge their organizations.

Board members from both unions had named Hedgpeth and SAG Executive Director David White as co-national executive directors, but it was widely expected that White would eventually head the combined group after a transition period.

During her tenure at AFTRA, Hedgpeth served as chief negotiator for many of AFTRA's national contracts covering actors, broadcast journalists, recording artists, among others, and was widely praised for her contributions to the union.

"Kim is in a league of her own,'' said Roberta Reardon, co-national president of SAG-AFTRA. "Through her remarkable negotiating skills at the bargaining table, her superb administration of the union and her principle attentiveness to the needs of members, Kim has improved the careers and lives of thousands of union members around the nation."

RELATED:

SAG board votes to approve merger plan

SAG, AFTRA craft merger plan

SAG-AFTRA merger means some dues will rise, others fall

— Richard Verrier

Photo: Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, co-national executive director of SAG-AFTRA. Credit: AFTRA.

IATSE and the studios reach a new contract

Matt Loeb, head of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that averts a potential showdown with the major studios.

IATSE represents more than 100,000 entertainment industry workers, including camera operators, set decorators, grips and others who work behind the scenes on movies and TV shows.

Under the proposed agreement, IATSE members would receive 2% annual wage increase over three years -- in line with raises negotiated by other entertainment unions . Employers agreed to increase by 20% their hourly their contribution to the union's health plan.

"Our goals going into these negotiations have been met,'' IATSE President Matt Loeb said in a statement. "We were successful in maintaining the pensions of our retirees."

Members with dependents, however, would also be required for the first time to pay premiums between $25 and $50 a month for healthcare coverage, said on person familiar with the deal.

The union agree to the concession as way to help close a large deficit in the union's health and pension plans -  projected to be more than $350 million over the next three years because of rising investment losses and medical costs. The two sides have been sharply divided over how to close the deficit.

IATSE also expanded to expand the so-called 30 mile zone in Los Angeles -- the area that determines work rules and rates paid to union members -- to include Agua Dulce and Pomona, among other locations.

If ratified by members, the new three-year contract that takes effects July 31.

RELATED:

It's not a wrap for contract talks between IATSE and producers

Healthcare costs to dominate IATSE, AMPTP talks

Matt Loeb of IATSE charting a more aggressive path

-Richard Verrier

Photo: Matt Loeb, head of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, at the union's office in Studio City in 2011. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

 

SAG and AFTRA members give thumbs up to merger

Sag-and-aftra

Creating Hollywood's largest entertainment union, members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have voted overwhelmingly to combine into a single bargaining unit. 

In an resounding show of support, SAG members voted 82% in favor of the merger, while AFTRA members voted 86% in favor. That was well above the 60% threshold needed for the combination to take effect.

SAG represents 125,000 actors, extras and stunt performers in movies and television shows. AFTRA has about 70,000 members who are actors as well as singers, dancers, disc jockeys, sports announcers, comedians and broadcast journalists, among others. About 40,000 people hold membership in both labor groups.

The historic vote comes nearly two years after union leaders began discussions to merge in a bid to gain more leverage in contract negotiations with studios and to end a long history of jurisdictional disputes and feuding over negotiating strategy.

Under the plan, the new consolidated union will be called simply SAG-AFTRA. National officers, including the president and secretary-treasurer, would be elected directly by members. However, some other positions, such as an executive vice president, would be elected by delegates at a convention held every two years -- a concession to AFTRA's tradition of using conventions and delegates. SAG elects its officers directly by a vote of members.

Dues will increase for some members, including for current AFTRA-only members, and drop for others, including those who are already dual card holders. 

The results represent a victory for leaders of both unions, who campaigned heavily to join forces after a bitter dispute erupted in 2008. At that time, AFTRA suspended its longtime bargaining partnership with SAG, which lost its traditional dominance in prime-time television as producers steered most of their contracts for new shows to AFTRA. SAG President Ken Howard and his supporters were elected on a pledge to merge with AFTRA.

Two previous attempts at combining the unions failed in 1999 and 2003, when 58% of SAG members voted to endorse it, falling just short of the required 60%. AFTRA members voted 76% in favor of the combination.

A group of actors including Ed Harris, Martin Sheen and Ed Asner recently filed a lawsuit to block the latest referendum vote, arguing that the SAG board breached its fiduciary duties to conduct an actuarial impact study detailing the effects of the proposed merger on health and pension benefits for SAG members. But a federal judge earlier this week rejected their request for an injunction blocking the ballot count.

RELATED:

SAG board votes to approve merger plan

SAG, AFTRA craft merger plan

SAG-AFTRA merger means some dues will rise, others fall

-- Richard Verrier

IATSE leaders says they'll protect health and pension benefits

Matt Loeb, head of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
In a sign that the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees may be headed for a showdown with the major studios, union leaders told members that they would "hold the line" on their health and pension benefits.

Matt Loeb, president of IATSE, and members of the union's West Coast bargaining committee sought to assure the rank and file that they were standing their ground in contract negotiations with the producers that ended on Monday without a deal.

"IATSE is continuing to hold the line on issues that are of importance to the membership -- health benefits, pension benefits and working conditions,'' Loeb and his colleagues said in an email to members distributed this week.

"We anticipate resuming negotiations prior to the expiration of the current agreement,'' the email continued. (The current contract expires July 31 of this year). "We remain committed to a new agreement that protects the needs of the membership and we'll continue to keep you apprised of any developments."

IATSE represents more than 100,000 entertainment industry workers, including camera operators, set decorators, grips and others who work behind the scenes on movies and TV shows.

People close to the negotiations say the sides remain divided over how to close a large deficit in the union's health and pension plans -- projected to be at least $300 million over the next three years -- because of investment losses and rising medical costs. The health and pension plans are funded by residual payments and employer contributions.

RELATED:

It's not a wrap for contract talks between IATSE and producers

Healthcare costs to dominate IATSE, AMPTP talks

Matt Loeb of IATSE charting a more aggressive path

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Matt Loeb, head of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, at the union's office in Studio City in 2011. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Judge rejects attempt to cancel SAG-AFTRA merger vote

Ed Asner SAG AFTRA merger

A federal judge has a blocked a request for a temporary injunction that would have scuttled a vote on merging the Screen Actors Guild with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Ed Asner, Martin Sheen and Ed Harris were among a group of actors who filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles last month seeking an injunction to stop SAG from calling for a vote on the proposed merger with AFTRA.

But, as was widely expected, a federal judge denied the request, clearing the way for the unions to count ballots this Friday. The merger would be ratified only if at least 60% of those who vote approve the plan.

“Voting in favor of merger may or may not be in the best interest of the majority of union members,'' wrote Judge James Otero. "But the decision, for better or worse, belongs to the members –- not to plaintiffs, and certainly not to the court.”

The lawsuit alleged that the SAG board breached its fiduciary duties to conduct an actuarial impact study detailing the effects of the proposed merger on health and pension benefits for SAG members. SAG's board overwhelmingly approved a plan to merge with the smaller actors union, arguing that doing so would give them more leverage in negotiations with the studios and end years of turf wars between the two labor groups.

“We are pleased with the court’s action denying the requested injunction and dismissing one of the plaintiff’s major claims in this matter,'' SAG Deputy National Executive Director and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said. "We are also gratified that the court has indicated that the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail on their other claims. It has been our position all along that these complaints were completely without merit and that the members will ultimately decide the future of their unions.”

RELATED:

SAG board votes to approve merger plan

SAG-AFTRA merger means some dues will rise, others fall

SAG, AFTRA craft merger plan

--Richard Verrier

Photo: Ed Asner is shown in character in 1978 as he portrays the city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune on the television drama "Lou Grant." Credit: Associated Press

 

 

It's not a wrap for contract talks between IATSE and producers

IATSE's Matt Loeb

After two weeks of negotiations, representatives of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the major studios have yet to reach an early deal on a new contract covering technical workers who toil behind the scenes on movies and TV shows.

IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers "have not completed their negotiation for a new Hollywood Basic Agreement,'' the groups said in separate statements Monday afternoon. "The parties need additional time to review data before resuming talks at a later time."

Citing a news blackout, the parties declined to elaborate further on the talks. The proposed contract expires July 31 and covers below-the-line workers, including camera operators, grips and costume designers.

People close to the negotiations say the sides remain divided over how to close a large deficit in the union's health and pension plans -- projected to be at least $300 million over the next three years -- because of investment losses and rising medical costs. The health and pension plans are funded by residual payments and employer contributions.

Union leaders could agree to raise eligibility requirements as they did in back in 2009 when they raised to 400 from 300 the minimum number of hours required to work over a six-month period. But such a move could spark fierce opposition within IATSE.  Union leaders from IATSE and Teamsters, which will also participate in the talks, have been prepping their members for months that they could be forced to accept some tough changes to their health and pension benefits.

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Healthcare costs to dominate IATSE, AMPTP talks

Matt Loeb of IATSE charting a more aggressive path

IATSE and Teamsters picket producers of '1000 Ways to Die'

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Matt Loeb, head of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, at the union's office on Riverside Drive in Studio City in 2011. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

 

AFTRA board scales up its fight against music labels

DancersThe fight between performers who work on music videos for artists such as Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake and music labels escalated Saturday.

The national board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists voted to give their representatives authority to issue a do-not-work-order against music labels or producers if the parties are unable to reach an agreement in contract negotiations.

For more than a year, AFTRA has been trying to secure a union contract deal with music companies that would provide minimum pay and benefits to dancers and others who perform in music videos. The union argues that the need for such an industrywide contract has increased as the music video industry has grown, thanks to the popularity of performers such as Madonna and Beyonce and online video services such as Vevo. But the talks, which were last held in January, have so far been unsuccessful, leading to the current standoff.

Earlier this year, dozens of members of the Los Angeles dance community held a rally and a flash mob performance, set to the tune of Aretha Franklin's hit "Respect," outside the offices of Sony Music Entertainment in support of efforts by music video performers to secure a union contract.

The vote comes just days before members of AFTRA are set to vote on a merger agreement with the Screen Actors Guild.

RELATED:

Actors unions to huddle for nine days of merger talks

AFTRA, music labels fail to make contract headway

Performers' union negotiates new TV contract

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Music video performers do a flash mob dance during a Jan. 6 rally in Beverly Hills. The rally was organized by The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

AFTRA Retirement Fund reaches settlement with JPMorgan Chase

Music video performers rally for safe, fair working conditions and health care for AFTRA members.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. has agreed to pay $150 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists Retirement Fund and other investors over losses incurred in the midst of the global financial crisis.

The settlement was disclosed in recent filings with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The settlement allows the parties to "avoid the risks and costs associated with trial, as well as potential years of continued litigation on appeal," the plaintiffs said in court documents. 

If approved by the court, the settlement would end litigation that began in 2009, when AFTRA's pension fund sued JPMorgan, alleging the firm improperly handled the fund's investments in a securites loan program operated by Sigma Finance Corp., an investment fund created by Gordian Knot Ltd. in London, which collapsed in October 2008. The suit alleged that JPMorgan Chase lost a "substantial portion" in cash collateral in medium-term notes issued by Sigma Finance.

Creditors seized more than $25 billion of Sigma's $27 billion in assets in September and October 2008, leaving about $1.9 billion as security for about $6.2 billion of outstanding medium-term notes.

JPMorgan "buried its head in the sand and refused to heed warnings signs" that the company would not be able to repay its notes, according to the complaint. AFTRA was joined in the suit by pension plans for the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority and the Imperial County Employees Retirement System.

A preliminary hearing on the settelment has been scheduled for June 4.

Representatives of the AFTRA Retirement Fund declined to comment on the settlement or how much of the $150 million it would receive.  AFTRA represents about 70,000 actors, dancers, singers and other performers.  The unions members are voting this month on whether to merge with the larger Screen Actors Guild.

-- Richard Verrier

RELATED:

AFTRA board agrees to tie the knot with SAG

AFTRA health and pention plan trustees take union to task

Music video dancers rally outside Sony to secure union contract

Photo: Music video performers rally for safe, fair working conditions and health care for AFTRA members. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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