IATSE President Matt Loeb is calling on the studios to provide health care benefits to below-the-line workers who might lose them if they fall short of qualifying during the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild strikes, as the companies did during the Covid pandemic.
The SAG-AFTRA strike started today, and the WGA strike is in its 74th day – long enough for many crewmembers to face the prospect of losing their health coverage in the days to come.
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In the early days of the pandemic, the Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plan (MPIPHP), which covers below-the line workers, is granted an extension of health benefits to out-of-work crewmembers by granting them up to 300 of the 400 hours they needed to qualify for health coverage.
Back then, MPIPHP amended its qualifying rules for active participants who had at least 100 hours worked or banked. “If you are in this group and have met the minimum number of hours, you will receive a credit of up to 300 hours to ensure eligibility continues in MPIHP for the benefit period from July 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020,” wrote the trustees – half of whom are from labor and half from management.
It was a generous and much-needed move that ensured that the workforce and their eligible family members would continue to have health coverage during the onset of a worldwide pandemic.
“Make no mistake,” Loeb said in a statement today, “if the studios truly cared about the economic fallout of their pre-emptive work slowdown against below-the-line crewmembers, they could continue to pay crewmembers and fully fund their healthcare at any moment, as they did in 2020 during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, grassroots groups of writers, actors, and directors like The Union Solidarity Coalition are stepping up to fund mutual aid that directly benefits our members, and I recognize them for organizing this much-needed support.”
The Editors Guild, IATSE Local 700, has told its members that the MPIPHP trustees could extend health benefits to members facing their loss, as they did during the pandemic but probably won’t because half of the trustees are represented by companies that are now being struck.
“There should be absolutely no expectation that the employer directors on the Board of the MPI Plans would support any accommodations for participants as a result of a strike, as was done during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the guild posted on its website.
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Similarly, the WGA has told its members that “there is no Health Fund requirement that the Health Plan extend health insurance coverage during a strike, and Trustees are 50% management and 50% Guild.”
In his statement, Loeb also expressed his unwavering support for striking actors and writers, saying that “their fight today foreshadows our fight tomorrow.” IATSE, which came close to a strike in 2021, will bargain for a new film and TV contract next year.
“The actors’ and writers’ cause is reasonable and just, and is part of the same struggles of every worker whose labor powers America’s film and television industry,” Loeb said. “The heartbeat of entertainment is the creativity and dedication of working people using their talents and skills to bring cherished stories to life. It is this very heartbeat the studios threaten to silence with reckless disregard for fairness and human artistry.
“The urgency of this moment cannot be overstated. Our industry is at a crossroads, and the actions taken now will affect the future of labor relations in Hollywood and beyond. The world and history are watching as entertainment workers once again take on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, an ensemble of media mega-corporations collectively worth trillions of dollars, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, Netflix, Universal, Warner Brothers, and others.”
“I am disturbed by the studios’ weak attempts to divide and conquer union members across our industry in recent days,” he said, adding that “the economic fallout for below-the-line crewmembers is real, but IATSE members know the studios were responsible for shutting down film and television production months before their negotiations with the writers and actors even started.”
“It’s plain as day who our allies are,” he said. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild kin…and we must stand united until the studios acknowledge our collective worth, and the workers prevail.”
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