A commenter inquires:
Why can't union members who are on voluntary withdrawal pay into the healthcare and pension on their own until they get reemployed at a signator studio. Unless my math is off, isn't it about half the cost to pay into health and pension than it is to get COBRA? ...
Under Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan rules, it can't be done.
And who makes the rules? The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan trustees. These trustees come from signator studios and the unions participating in the plan ( a 50-50 split.) They -- along with the bargaining parties to the union contracts -- set the Pension and Health Plan parameters. By law, trustees are required to "act on behalf of Plan participants."
The two sides agreed long ago that the main way payments can be made to the Plan is through contributions via employment under one of the many union contracts.
(One of the rationales for this is that residuals from t.v. shows and movies flow into the Plan to support it, and the trustees don't want to open it to an unlimited number of folks who aren't working on features and television product that trigger residual payments. There are already a number of exceptions for "affiliated" employees.)
Is this fair? I don't know. It's what the bargaining parties and trustees have agreed on over the years.
But one consolation for Plan participants who aren't currently employed by a signator company is: they can remain recipients to Motion Picture Industry Health coverage for close to three years beyond their date of lay off. If they have worked for a contract studio for a year or more, they will likely receive twelve to fifteen months of additional coverage after they become unemployed. Beyond that, they can self-pay an additional eighteen months of coverage at the Plan's group rate for another eighteen months (popularly known as COBRA).
Last part of the question up above: Sadly, the questioner's math is off. The cost of self-paying pension and health contributions (if it were possible, and it's not) would be considerably more than COBRA. The person would be paying:
1) 6% of the contract minimum rate (example: 6% of $1500 minimum weekly rate= $90/week)
2) $1.57 for every hour worked.
3) Cost of health coverage.
The above is a tad more than COBRA payments (#3).
Let me leave you with a cheerful thought. TAG has, as of last Monday, brought a union organizer on board, and in the coming weeks, months and years we will be focusing on expanding the number of workplaces that participate in the Motion Picture Industry and Pension and Health Plan.