Ned Vaughn, vice president of SAG First National, fires back at what he calls a "cynical" lawsuit filed to stop a proposed merger between the two largest performers unions. Robert Kovacik reports from Burbank.
A group of high-profile actors -- including Martin Sheen, Ed Asner and Valerie Harper -- filed a lawsuit Wednesday to stop the proposed merger between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
The suit alleges that SAG's board failed to "conduct an actuarial impact study" on the proposed merger's effect on pension and health benefits, according to an attorney representing the actors.
"Most SAG members make less than $10,000 a year. They critically need their pension and health benefits," attorney David B. Casselman said.
"They can ill afford to have a merger of the unions go forward without a plan that's designed to take care of the question -- in advance -- will the merger of the pension and health plans later cause them harm?" Casselman said. "The truth is they have not crunched the numbers."
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, SAG called the suit "a clear attempt at circumventing the will of the membership."
"We believe that this suit is completely without merit and we will vigorously defend all claims in court. We are confident that our actions are appropriate and consistent with the law and our own rules of procedure," according to SAG's statement.
Document: Read Complete SAG Statement
In videos released early to NBC4, Sheen, a national SAG board member, and Asner, a former SAG president, plead with union members to stop the merger.
"Those of us who are opposed know that we are in a fight, we are in the minority," Sheen said in the video. "I am used to fighting. I am never comfortable unless I am uncomfortable and, so, this is right up my alley."
Other pointed to the fact that actors rely on residuals, and there’s no guarantee that a merger would keep their health and pension benefits strong.
"Then, we’re walking into a casino," Graham Beckel told NBC 4. "If you like the odd in this economy, fine. I don’t like the odds."
The merger, which was expected to be approved by an overwhelming majority, is close to being finalized. Both unions have signed off on the SAG-AFTRA proposal, and referendum ballots will be mailed to union members later this month.
Ballots are due back by March 30, and at least 60 percent approval is needed to ratify the deal.
SAG currently represents more than 125,000 actors, while AFTRA has a membership of 70,000.
According to a version of the lawsuit released to NBC4, the plaintiffs are listed as:
"Martin Sheen, Edward Asner, Ed Harris, Valerie Harper, Clancy Brown, James Remar, George Coe, Diane Ladd, Lainie Kazan, Nichelle Nichols, Renee Aubry, Jane Austin, Erick Avari, Steve Barr, Sara Barrett, Terrance Beason, Michael Bell, Warren Berlinger, Joe Bologna, Ralph Brennen, Alexandra Castro, Jude Ciccolella, Cynthia Lea Clark, David Clennon, Joe D’Angerio, Patricia D’Arbanville, Dick Gautier, Dorothy Goulah, Marty Grey, Sumi Haru, Angel Harper, Basil Hoffman, David Huddleston, Anne-Marie Johnson, David Jolliffe, Kerrie Keane, Peter Kwong, Kurt Lott, Barbara Luna, Eric Lutes, Stephen Mach, Michael McConnohie, Peter Antico, Susan McNabb, Phyllis Timbes, Marguerite Moreau, Traci Murray, Nicole Mandich, Larry Newman, Barbara Niven, Kathleen Nolan, Jack Ong, Peggy Lane O’Rourke, Leslie Parrish, Scott Pierce, Robin Riker, Stephanie Rose, Alan Rosenberg, Alan Ruck, Wendy Schaal, Tascha Schaal, Nancy Sinatra, Cynthia Steele, Renee Taylor, Malachi Throne, Beverly Todd, Jessica Wright, Momo Yashimo"