Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hollywood's Oncoming Health Care Fustercluck

Dave McNary in Variety overviews one of the major flash points for movie employees.

Hollywood faces several issues -- some distant ... and some not -- that are causing headaches for the trustees of the health and pension plans:

* With the decline in the amount of work in Hollywood comes a decline in the contributions that employers put into the plans.

* There is uncertainty over the impact of federal government reforms, which may include taxing "Cadillac" plans -- the nickname for well-regarded health and retirement plans that provide a high level of coverage to well over 100,000 participants.

* There have been declines of more than 20% in the value of the plans' portfolio over the past year (although the plans have managed to recover slightly).

* Costs continue their inexorable rise ....

The pension/ health care tsunami is hitting both above-the-line and below-the-line entertainment workers. On a weekly basis, I encounter animation artists, writers and technicians who are wound tight about getting enough contribution hours to maintain health coverage, and although the crisis for industry pension and health plans is slightly less for TAG and IATSE members, big problems still loom:

... IATSE agreed to cuts in health plan by agreeing to a hike in the eligibility threshold during the final year of the pact. Members will have to work 400 hours over six months to qualify, up 33% from the previous 300-hour requirement, That change caused an uproar among below-the-line workers: "That should tell you something when IATSE rank-and-file get upset because it doesn't happen often," one insider notes ...

Older employees are having a particularly brutal time. Fifty-five-year-olds for whom the work has dried up are too young to draw retiree health benefits, yet find they're earning fewer contribution hours and don't qualify for active health coverage. As one vet said to me:

"I worked thirty-two years in the biz, twenty-six of them union, but steady work for me is gone. I took early retirement because I didn't have any choice, but I won't be old enough to get retiree health benefits for three more years. So I'm working a lower pay job to pay for the $800/month individual plan I've got to have to survive ..."

What do you do when you're fifty-nine years old with a "pre-existing condition," no higher paying gigs coming your way, and no group health plan in your future?

Whatever you can. Even if it means working somewhere for ten bucks an hour, and draining your bank and pension accounts to stay alive.


Anonymous said...

Re: "Members will have to work 400 hours over six months to qualify, up 33% from the previous 300-hour requirement"

This is very unfortunate.

Did the bank of hours cap increase at all when the health care qualifying requirement went up from 300 to 400 hours? Or is the bank of hours still capped at 450 hours?

Steve Hulett said...

Bank of hours is the same as before: 450 hours.

My suggestion prior to negotiations was to go to co-pays for premiums, and leave the 300 hours in place.

However, the decision was made to avoid co-pays and go to more hours, the thought being that hour increases might be temporary, but co-pays were forever.

Of course, the whole point of this is to lower costs by lowering the number of eligible participants. Estimates, as I recall, is that eligible participants will decrease by 6-8%.

Anonymous said...

This is not good.

Assuming that we start out with 450 hours in the bank, after dipping into our bank of hours once, we now have to work 350 more hours to meet the 400 hour requirement. Instead of previously having to work 150 more hours towards meeting a 300 hour requirement.

350 vs. 150 ...
That's a big difference.

Anonymous said...

And the labor solution to all of this would be what exactly?

After suffering two years of crippling strikes and job actions of our brothers and sisters of Hollywood labor - WGA and SAG had the absolute shittiest timing in the history of all labor negotiations - complete morons, embarrassing displays of incompetence - what is labor positioned to do about all of this now? Our retarded pattern-bargaining ship is chained to the same Titanic of global finance that our corporate overlords are tied to.

Strength in 'numbers'? 'Union'? What does that mean? Granted, if you are 59, it's no fun to know the guy just five years your senior crossed the magical threshold with more cushion. But to anyone well under 59 years of age, this is just an obvious math lesson. And since the math just doesn't add up, hasn't added up for anyone slogging away today with shortened hours and shrinking budgets - what is the benefit of collective bargaining here? What? What is the benefit? Do we all get complimentary White Star Line cheese platters on our next voyage? What is the benefit? Make the case for how labor will protect this mythical health and pension concept that these striking idiots claim to be the righteous and glorious defenders of, for the good of all mankind, forever and ever and ever, until inflation or declining dollar do us part. Make the case, labor. It's your ship. The rats down in steerage are not waiting around. And they are smarter for it.

Anonymous said...

Steve, How does the proposed health care plan affect our coverage? I've read that unions are opposed to it, but I'm not sure why. Would it affect our benefits?
(and I realize that there are several versions of plans) but can you summarize?

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