Actors’ Union SAG-AFTRA Sued by More Than 100 Members for Not Protecting Them From Vaccine Rules

Actors’ Union SAG-AFTRA Sued by More Than 100 Members for Not Protecting Them From Vaccine Rules
The SAG-AFTRA logo is displayed outside of the National Headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard during the actors' strike in Los Angeles on Oct. 24, 2023. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
City News Service

LOS ANGELES—More than 100 SAG-AFTRA members on Dec. 7 filed complaints for damages against their union, alleging that its return-to-work agreement subjected them to invasive testing, masking, and in some cases fired for not complying with mandatory Hollywood producer COVID vaccination requirements.

Dozens of SAG-AFTRA members were banned from work without proof of the COVID-19 vaccine, forced to sign up for a digital health passport to enter production grounds or denied hot meals on set, the Los Angeles Superior Court complaints state.

Other members saw employment opportunities vanish as movie industry representatives, agents, managers, stunt coordinators, and dance choreographers fielded employment-guarded opportunities when requiring “vaccinated only” submissions without any protection from SAG-AFTRA, the suits allege.

“My biggest fear is my great-grandkids will refer to me as the guy who didn’t fight, that’s why I’m doing this,” said actor Brian F. Durkin, one of the plaintiffs. “There is no way they were going to order me to put something in my body.”

Some prospective construction industry employers Mr. Durkin spoke to after leaving Hollywood worried about hiring him because they believed he would return to acting as soon as he could, Mr. Durkin said.

Stuntman Dorian Kinji, also a plaintiff, said it is important for people in his business to know their bodies “inside and out.” He said he believed that taking the vaccine was unwise and incompatible with his religious beliefs.

Those union members who did not comply suffered irreparable damage to their careers and livelihoods, Mr. Kinji said.

Jessica Cabrera, a representative for Protection of the Educational Rights of Kids, said her organization is supporting the plaintiffs.

“We really want to bring justice to those being harmed,” she said.

A SAG-AFTRA representative issued a statement regarding the litigation.

“The claims are without merit and SAG-AFTRA will seek their dismissal,” the statement read. “The union has already defended and obtained dismissal of other charges brought against it before the National Labor Relations Board relating to the return-to-work agreement.”

According to plaintiffs’ attorney Breyon J. Davis, SAG-AFTRA successfully held Hollywood producers accountable for egregious violations of union member wages and working conditions, and acted quickly on issues pertaining to artificial intelligence and streaming services.

“But the union ignored health risks to members when it came to COVID-19 mandates and protocols,” Mr. Davis said. “Each of the plaintiffs seek to ensure this doesn’t happen again as they have exhausted all union remedies with no solutions provided.”

More plaintiffs will likely be filing cases in the future, Mr. Davis said.

The mass action lawsuits include claims for breach of fiduciary duty and contract, negligence, and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.