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Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, others sue to block SAG-AFTRA merger

February 23, 2012|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

Ed Asner and Valerie Harper are teaming up on a new project: an attempt to take down the proposed merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Asner and Harper, who starred in the 1970s "Mary Tyler Moore" TV series, have joined other high-profile actors including Ed Harris and Martin Sheen in filing a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday seeking an injunction to stop SAG from holding a vote on a proposed merger with AFTRA.

Referendum ballots will be mailed to members Monday and are due back March 30. The merger would be ratified only if at least 60% of those who vote approve the plan.

The suit alleges 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 of 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 studios and end years of turf wars between the two labor groups.

A minority of board members, among them Asner and Harris, have maintained that the proposed combination would weaken health and pension benefits for SAG's 125,000 members, about 40,000 of whom also belong to AFTRA.

"We have spent almost two months negotiating with SAG in an effort to get them to present the truth regarding this merger plan," Los Angeles attorney David Casselman said in a statement. "They have done nothing of substance to support their claims that the proposed merger will protect SAG benefits."

Defendants named in the suit include SAG Executive Director David White, SAG President Ken Howard and other officers of the union.

In a statement, SAG said the lawsuit was without merit.

"Any suggestion that the members have not been fully and fairly informed is preposterous," SAG said. "We have scheduled more than 50 informational meetings across the country, have posted all of the merger documents on the website for over four weeks, and we have afforded the merger opponents the right to send an opposition statement at the unions' expense as part of the referendum package.... This filing is simply a public relations stunt that follows a clear pattern by some of the plaintiffs of filing unsuccessful lawsuits against their own union. We do not believe that the members will be fooled."

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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