Representatives of SAG-AFTRA have brought a class action against the union’s health plan and its trustees over benefit cuts they claim remove coverage of around 11,000 union members, many of whom are senior citizens.

Veteran actor Ed Asner (Up, Lou Grant) is one of 10 plaintiffs named in papers filed on Tuesday (December 1) with a federal court in California alleging breach of fiduciary duty, engagement in prohibited transactions, and failure to disclose material to plan participants.

In August SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – the unions merged in 2021) Health Plan administrators said they would increase premiums for 2021 coverage, as well as the amount subscribers were required to earn in order to get coverage.

They cited a need to restructure the health plan to avoid reserves running dry by 2024, a situation exacerbated by costly production shutdowns during the pandemic, and more general rising healthcare costs.

According to the class action – brought on behalf of members of the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Health Plan and the SAG-AFTRA Health Fund – the plan and its trustees are violating protections offered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and have acted in a way that discriminates against older union members with lower earning power.

The plaintiffs allege the plan changes mean that members aged 65 or older who are drawing pensions cannot count residuals as earnings, a situation that SAG-AFTRA national board member David Jolliffe described as “tantamount to stealing”.

The plan propose to remove 10% of its 33,000 participants and 9% of their 32,000 dependents from SAG-AFTRA health coverage.

“Our seniors built our union, and we stand on their shoulders,” said SAG-AFTRA national board member Frances Fisher. “All performers prior to 1960 gave away their movie residuals in television in order to start SAG’s Health and Pension Plan, at great personal sacrifice.

“It is unacceptable that now these senior performers will take a double hit and will lose their senior SAG-AFTRA health coverage.”