Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Freelance World

A few weeks ago I got a call from a member who hadn't gotten paid dismissal pay -- part of TAG's contract -- by his employer. "Can you help?" he said.

Being an elected union rep, I said: "Of course," and picked up the phone to find out what the problem was. The person in H.R. who I talked to said: "Oh, we didn't pay that because he's freelance."

I pointed out (politely) that an employee is an employee under the collective bargaining agreement; the company had taken out taxes and treated the artist as an employee, so he was due the money.*

Sadly, across most of the nation, that's not how designated "freelancers" get treated:

Temporary workers and independent contractors make up nearly a third of the U.S. workforce, and represent a growing asset to companies who rely on freelance flexibility. But corporations are using the designation "freelancer" to avoid paying health care and other benefits, even though many of these workers put in the same hours as their covered counterparts. NOW looks at the effect of this tactic on the lives and personal economy of freelance workers.

(The embedded video is particularly interesting.)

This "temp" thing has been a cold, hard reality in Tinsel Town a lot longer than most other places in the U.S. of A. When the studios started disintegrating as long-term employers during the 1950s, the entertainment unions stepped into the breach and negotiated portable health and pension benefits for their members.

I've long believed that if the studios and their conglomerate parents didn't have Hollywood labor unions negotiating a seamless cloak of benefits that followed people from three-month gig to six-month gig, they would have to jerry-rig some other system that did the same thing.

* To get dismissal pay, W-2 workers (employees) need to have worked the requisite number of days and weeks to receive it. This particular studio agreed that the money was due.


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