Hollywood’s biggest labor union SAG-AFTRA has long been a hot-bed of anti-Trump sentiment. Guild leaders once publicly slammed President Donald Trump for his rhetorical attacks against the mainstream media. During its annual awards ceremony this year, Robert De Niro, who was receiving a lifetime achievement award, condemned the president for his so-called “abuse of power.”
Now it turns out that SAG-AFTRA is the one allegedly abusing its power. The guild is facing a class-action lawsuit from some of its own members for its decision to raise the minimum earnings requirement for its health plan. According to the complaint, the change would disqualify many elderly actors from receiving health coverage while in the middle of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
Actor Ed Asner, who is 91 and a former SAG president, is leading the lawsuit, which alleges that the union is breaching its fiduciary duty and has mismanaged the plan. The Emmy-winning Lou Grant star said in the complaint that he expects to lose coverage because he won’t meet certain thresholds that are set to go into effect next year.
Stars including Morgan Freeman, Amy Schumer, Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Sheen, and Mark Hamill are participating in a publicity video that attacks union leadership, claiming that nearly 12,000 guild members are set to be kicked off the plan, most of whom are elderly.
“I’m really pissed about it. Really pissed,” Goldberg says in the video.
“I feel betrayed,” actor Elliot Gould says.
“This is criminal,” Asner says.
“It’s bullshit,” Oscar-winning star Shirley Jones says.
The entire duty of unions is to protect the most vulnerable members.
95% of #SAGAFTRA members earn <25K/yr.
They're stand-ins. Stunts. VO. Background.
12K just got kicked off their health plan. During a pandemic.
What would you do?#SOSHealthplan pic.twitter.com/2VzWD2kcFg
— Eleven Films (@Eleven_Films) December 1, 2020
SAG-AFTRA announced the changes three months ago, effectively raising the earnings floor from $18,040 a year to $25,950, starting January 1. The changes come as the guild’s health plan faces mounting deficits that could reach $141 million this year.
The change would also increase the quarterly costs for plan participants, in some cases rising by more than 50 percent.
In a statement to Variety, SAG-AFTRA leaders said that “we have just received a copy of the complaint that was filed this afternoon and are reviewing.”
SAG-AFTRA is Hollywood’s largest labor union, representing an estimated 160,000 actors, performers, and news media professionals.
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