Last fall a number of actors sent a letter to SAG-AFTRA that claimed that the union had not properly paid actors foreign royalty payments due to them for over a decade. SAG-AFTRA immediately dismissed the claim by pointing out that famed accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers audits the foreign royalty payments for the union.
However sixteen actors, led by former SAG president Ed Asner, have filed a lawsuit against the union regarding the issue. According to Variety, the suit “alleges that SAG-AFTRA has improperly withheld funds and stonewalled requests for information about $110 million held in trust by the union.”
A representative for the union said in response, “We are very proud of, and confident in, our unclaimed residuals and foreign royalties programs which distribute millions of dollars to performers every year. The foreign royalties program has successfully distributed to performers more than $14 million — money that would otherwise go uncollected and be lost to them forever.”
A major point of contention is that SAG-AFTRA is holding millions in unclaimed royalties, which are donated to the SAG Foundation or the Actors Fund if they are not claimed for three years. However, actors might be owed royalties without even knowing it, so the suit claims the union is using those “unclaimed” royalties as a slush fund used for “increasing salaries to executive officers, to pay for first class travel and lavish parties.”
Along with Asner, actors who filed the suit include former board members Steve Barr, Clancy Brown and George Coe along with Tom Bower, Terrence Beasor, Dennis Hayden, Alex McArthur, Ed O’Ross, William Richert, Russell Gannon, Stephen Wastell, James Osburn and Eric Hughes.
A similar suit was filed against the Directors Guild of America’s distribution of foreign royalties in 2008, but was settled out of court. In comparison, both the DGA and the Writers Guild of America have paid out significantly more money in foreign levies to its members than SAG-AFTRA has.
The suit was filed Friday in federal court in Los Angeles by the United Screen Actors Committee.