The ongoing Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA strikes have had a devastating impact on union health plans in the entertainment industry. An example of this is the situation of IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 476 in Chicago, which represents film crew members and television shows filmed in the city. Due to a lack of employer contributions and a high number of applications, the union’s health and social reserves are rapidly depleting, jeopardizing the security of its 2,000 members.
The production shutdown caused by the strike has resulted in a significant loss of employer contributions to the union’s local health plan. According to a letter from the local union’s Health and Welfare Fund to members, employer contributions to the West Coast IATSE health plan fell by $150 million during the strikes. The local union health plan, which is separate from the West Coast plan, is based on contributions based on hours worked. With little or no work being done, the plan’s reserves are quickly depleted, forcing trustees to take action to maintain it.
The impact of the strikes on work in bargaining units was significant: more than 510,000 hours of work were lost as of August 31, 2023. This shortage resulted in a loss of more than $3.4 million in contributions to the fund. Health and well-being. The letter acknowledges that this is not an isolated incident and that IATSE unions on the West Coast have also experienced significant declines in healthcare contributions.
To address financial challenges, the local union office has implemented measures such as freezing accrued hours for the fourth quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of 2024. Participants may continue to accrue accumulated hours, but may not use them to maintain health insurance eligibility during certain periods of work reduction. The initial eligibility requirement was also changed to 600 hours in two consecutive quarters instead of 300 hours in one quarter. In addition, the co-payment for prescription drugs has been increased.
The letter reassures participants that the union is working to secure the future of the health plan and is exploring cost-saving measures. He highlighted the extreme difficulties faced by members and their families due to the strikes and expressed his condolences for their concerns. However, the local union’s pension fund is not at risk.
It is important that the entertainment industry find a solution to the strikes to ease pressure on union health plans and provide stability for workers in the industry.