Thursday, December 21, 2006

Disney Changes II

The second meeting of soon-to-be-laid off Disney staffers happened at the hat building yesterday. We had bigger attendance than the first meeting, but we didn't catch everyone. Since we handed out important info and got lots of questions, we synopsize the main points in Q and A form...

My end date at Disney's is March 30, 2007. How long until my Motion Picture Industry Health Insurance runs out?

If you've worked at Disney for a year or more, you should have a year or more of health coverage beyond your end date. For example, if your MPI health plan card has 08/01/06-12/31/06 as your coverage dates, then you will most likely be covered until 12/31/07 because you'll have 300 contributed hours to make that coverage happen.

And beyond 12/31/07, you'll likely have another six months of coverage because you (likely) have 300-plus hours in MPI Health Plan's "Bank of Hours." And that's enough for an additional six month's worth of health insurance. At the time your coverage ends, the Plan will send you a letter notifying you that unless you authorize the Plan to use hours in your Bank of Hours to extend coverage, no more health benefits. You'll need to return the enclosed form to the Plan for that extra half-year of coverage. If you don't, no health insurance.

What about pensions? I've worked here off and on for like, seven years, but I've never put together enough years in a row to qualify for the monthly pension. I think this kind of sucks.

The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plans have two parts: The Defined Benefit Plan is a monthly-annuity type pension and takes five years to vest (when you're "vested," it means you're qualified to receive the pension.) The Individual Account Plan -- essentially a balanced stock and bond account -- takes ten forty-hour work-weeks to vest (400 contribution hours). Both these pension plans are automatic when you start work at the studio.

So, let's say you labored at the Mouse House (or some other signator company) for two years, then went away for three years, then came back for three years, then left for five years. You're correct in assuming that you never reached the magic five-year threshhold to qualify for the monthly annuity (the Defined Benefit Plan.) The good news, however, is that you would have qualified for the Individual Account Plan (since you only need ten weeks to vest it), and you would probably have somewhere between five and twenty grand sitting in the account, with each one of those grands earning interest.

One other point: If it were up to the Animation Guild (or any other union under the Industry Plan), everyone would be vested in both pension plans in ten weeks. But it's not up to the Animation Guild. The Motion Picture Industry Plan operates under the federal Taft-Hartley law, so half of its trustees are from participating companies that are trying to contain plan costs. It costs the plan more money if every participant vested lickety-split, hence the five-year vesting time. It saves the companies money.

There's one other pension plan offered to Disney employees working under the TSL/839 agreements, and that's The Animation Guild 401(k)Plan. This one is optional, not automatic. In 2006, you could have tucked 15,000 pre-tax dollars into it (there is no match.) Unlike the Industry Plans, this one is portable to anywhere in the U.S. of A. Anyone who has been away from the industry for ninety days or more can roll her/his 401(k) money into any other qualified retirement account or 401(k) plan.

I'm getting laid off, but there are a couple of other people in my department who have been here way less time than me and have less skills than me. How can the company get rid of me and not them? Doesn't the Animation Guild have seniority in the contract?

Since the mid-eighties, the Seniority Clause in the 839 contract (the same language is in the TSL contract) has allowed signator company wide discretion in who they retain, and who they lay off:

In hiring, layoffs, and recalls, the principal of seniority shall apply as set forth below; except that, where the merit and ability of one individual is, in the sole discretion of the Producer, superior to that of another individual, Producer's judgement shall prevail unless the Union can demonstrate that the producer did not reach its decision fairly and reasonably and without discrimination of any kind...

No company operates as a strict meritocracy. Skills are important, but cronyism, politics and pay-rates also play a part.

Disney Feature Animation is no different than other companies. It reaches its decisions of retention and dismissal via lots of different routes. The collective bargaining agreement, unless there is raw discrimination that can be proven, allows them to do so. This might be crappy, but it's hard to reverse crappiness in a contract arbitration.

My end date is March 2. Is this enough time for me to earn a pension year in 2007?

It is if you don't take time off between now and March 2. This is possible because the '07 pension year "begins on the Sunday before the last Thursday of a calendar year and ends on the Saturday before the last Thursday of the subsequent calendar year."

This could be an important point if you are close to vesting the Defined Benefit Plan. If you're not sure where you stand, we suggest you check with the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan (818-769-0007).

Addendum:There's a lot of non-signator effects houses and game companies out there. What if I go to work at one of them? What happens to my benefits? How can I start getting benefits again?

If you go to work at a non-signator studio, you can let us know, sign a rep card, help us organize it. If there's enough critical mass for unionization inside the company, it can well end up becoming a union studio that pays contribution hours into your pension and health plan. (It's happened many times before. See: IDT-Entertainment, Nickelodeon, Hyperion Studios, etc.)

You can't self-pay MPI pension and health benefits; if they don't happen through an employer, they don't happen. But you will have health benefits from the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan for a year or more after leaving Disney. If your next employer is non-signator, consider negotiating for lesser -- or no -- company health benefits in exchange for higher wages. It doesn't always hapen, but sometimes it does. And if you don't ask for them, you for sure won't get them.


Anonymous said...

Why don't the folks receiveing their pink slips get together and form a start up? Put together a business plan for a new animation company?

Anonymous said...

That's a good idea. But many of you guys are still planning and hoping that Uncle Walt will still hire you back. That's really true with Christopher Kracker, a Disney animation PDM. He never quit hoping that Uncle Walt is going to hire him back which to me means that he is no good outside Walt's world ... let alone starting your own animation company.

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