Hollywood Labor Fight Looms as Money for Benefits Wanes
By MICHAEL CIEPLY
LOS ANGELES — Bitter disputes over health and pension payments to union members have created plenty of drama in states and cities this year. But do not look for a movie about it — Hollywood will be too busy dealing with a labor crisis of its own.
After three relatively peaceful years, the entertainment industry is bracing for a showdown next spring. At issue is an enormous projected shortfall in financing for some of the most jealously guarded perks in show business, the heavily gilded health and pension plans.
No one is talking of a strike yet. In fact, no one with official standing is talking publicly. Leaders of the industry’s craft and blue-collar unions and officials of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios and other production companies, have all declined to discuss what will happen when several contracts expire July 31.
But in town hall meetings over the last two months, union leaders have told members that weak industry economics, a tough investment climate and, above all, sharp increases in health care outlays are expected to create a $500 million shortfall by 2015.
“We’re going to be asking for money, lots of it,” Matthew Loeb, the president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (I.A.T.S.E.), told a gathering at the union’s Local 80 here in late September. His union represents about 50,000 set designers, makeup artists, grips and other film workers.
To put things in perspective, the contract that in 2008 settled a three-month strike by Hollywood’s writers was estimated to include total pay and benefits increases of less than a third that amount over three years. A subsequent, hard-fought three-year deal with the Screen Actors Guild, with about 120,000 members, cost the companies only about $250 million. One person involved with the pension and health plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation, called the looming half-billion dollar shortfall “staggering.”
The workers represented under the stage employees’ contracts have been known more for making deals than picking fights. In years past, the union might have been at the bargaining table a year before the contract deadline; this time talks may not start until spring. The last full-blown craft strikes occurred more than a half-century ago, and involved a different configuration of unions; Hollywood’s Teamsters, the other major union headed for a 2012 showdown, have not staged a major strike since 1988.
But the current situation is volatile, partly because the Teamsters and some allied unions who share health and pension plans with I.A.T.S.E. aligned the expiration of their contracts with those of the larger theatrical workers alliance by shortening their last contract cycle to two years.
This time, those unions are expected to bargain jointly on health and pension issues. A walkout would instantly stop film and television production in the Los Angeles area, and would affect production in New York and elsewhere, because editors, camera crews and some others are represented on a national basis.
Hollywood’s guilds largely resolved their health and pension problems, at least for now, in several agreements over the last year or two. But the craft workers and other film laborers got caught in a whipsaw that involved the financial markets, changes to federal health care law, and some features that are peculiar to the financing and benefit structure of their plans.
In some ways, Hollywood’s blue-collar health plans are more generous than those covering actors, writers and directors, who are usually regarded as being higher in the pecking order.
At the gathering in September at Local 80, John Garner, a health care consultant with Levey, Garner & Isaacs, told I.A.T.S.E. members their plans matched or exceeded those of the guilds and others in deductibles, office visit co-pays, member contributions and other measures.
One chart showed that entertainment industry workers pay just $300 as a median per person deductible for services from a preferred provider group. But those in the plan covering craft workers and Teamsters pay no deductible for the same services.
Such generous coverage has come at a cost. The craft workers contribute their residuals payments from the rebroadcast of films on television and elsewhere to their benefits plans, while guild members typically receive the residuals as cash. At the same time, the blue-collar workers for years have been draining an enormous cash reserve in their own plans — once enough to finance 30 months of benefits — to meet outlays that have increased as the population has aged and more sophisticated medicine has raised costs.
But what advisers had said was a surplus in the reserve is almost spent. Investments never quite recovered from the market collapse of 2008. Hollywood’s residuals payments flattened as the DVD boom ended. Meanwhile, federal health care legislation required plans to cover children to the age of 26, and eliminated lifetime coverage maximums.
It added up to what David Wescoe, the executive administrative director for the health and pension plans for the craft and blue-collar unions, told union members was “a very dicey picture for the next three-year cycle.”
Speaking at Local 80, he put the pension financing shortage at $190 million. Increased health expenses, he said, would require an additional $180 million to stay even with current benefits. About $75 million would be needed to keep the reserves at a safe level of six to eight months. And falling contributions, if industry economics remain soft, will also hurt.
To some extent, the size of the shortfall may be affected by the decisions of the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on a challenge to the federal health care plan in March. “It’s in their hands,” read the legend of a photo of the justices in Mr. Wescoe’s presentation in September.
But even if the court were to overturn the new law, something must give when the companies and unions meet. “To leave it the way it is today, we need half a billion dollars,” Mr. Loeb said.
The 1% are striking back. In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen an armed assault by policy on Occupy Oakland, eviction of Occupy Portland, an attempt to eliminate Occupy Wall Street and pepper-spraying of Occupy Seattle. I think this is a tribute to the persistence of the Occupy movement, but also to the degree to which the Occupy message is resonating with the American people: we ARE the 99%. And the efforts to end the “occupations” isn’t demoralizing the movement. Just yesterday, the campaign to recall anti-labor Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker began – with 10,000 recall petitions downloaded the first day.
This week is a national week of action to demand JOBS, NOT CUTS. In Martin Luther King County alone, we have 45 bridges deemed “structurally deficient,” and 349 more classified as “functionally obsolete.” Our State’s public schools need $6.1 billion in repairs. Over 800,000 people in Washington lack access to affordable healthcare. With unemployment in the building trades running close to 40%, we could create up to 30,000 construction jobs with a general obligation bond in the spring. But politicians in DC and Olympia, doing the work for the 1%, give us wars, corporate welfare and spending cuts.
Join with labor, Occupy Seattle and community allies:
Thursday, November 17th
Plaza at Montlake Blvd NE & NE Pacific Street, across from Husky Stadium
March to University Bridge at 4:30
sponsored by Martin Luther King Jr. County Labor Council AFL-CIO, Working America and many others, including active support from the AFL-CIO and the Washington State Labor Council
Friday, November 18th
Western Washington Performing Arts Center, Bellingham (with Occupy Bellingham)
March to Rep. Rick Larsen’s office
Saturday, November 19th
Westlake Plaza (with Occupy Seattle)
March to Sen. Patty Murray’s office
Sen. Murray is Co-Chair of the “Super Committee” – let’s tell both Sen. Murray and Rep. Larsen:
* Hands off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – no cuts to education and social services
* We need jobs, not cuts – fund a federal public works program to create millions of jobs for the unemployed
* Make big business pay – we need major tax hikes for the 1% super-rich and coroporations
* End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – slash Pentagon spending
The Friday and Saturday actions are part of a national Jobs Not Cuts week of actions; for more information, for more information, please see www.jobsnotcutsprotest.org. Local cosponsors include Occupy Seattle, Occupy Bellingham, Occupy Olympia, Seattle Education Association, American Federation of Government Employees 3937, Amalgamated Transit Union 587, Wash/Tech Communications Workers of America 37087, Whatcom Peace & Justice Center, Olympia Movement for Peace & Justice and Olympia for a Fair Budget.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Occupy Seattle is once again asking for everyone who can to join them:
Saturday, October 29th
Chase Bank Robin Hood March & Teach-In
BAIL OUR OUR SCHOOLS, NOT OUR BANKS
As you may know, two days ago, Oakland (CA) police attacked Occupy Oakland with tear gas and clubs. A decorated Iraq veteran, with two tours of duty with the Marines, was badly injured, requiring brain surgery. Labor throughout the country, led by the AFL-CIO (and locally by the Washington State Labor Council and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council) are rallying to support the creative and courageous young people of the Occupy movement. Our Local has, I believe, had quite literally the strongest participation of any Union in Seattle. If you can make it on Saturday, please wear your colors – Local 15 jackets, caps, shirts buttons or signs.
In addition, Occupy Seattle will have an “Occupy Hallowe’en” event on Sunday. They need pumpkins, carving tools and tea candles for jack o’lanterns. If you can help with donations of these supplies or of food, water and other necessities, please call Max Brown at the Labor Council, 206-441-7102.
Finally, there will be a meeting of the Labor Caucus of Occupy Seattle at 6:00 pm this Wednesday, November 2nd in the Seattle Labor Temple, 2800 1st Avenue. Everyone is welcome.
Labor support for Occupy Seattle is continuing, and growing – as is happening throughout the country.
Local 15 has had proportionately one of the strongest showings of support for Occupy Seattle. We have members going down to Westlake Park every day, and for the major labor mobilizations we’ve had 10-20 people out each time.
Occupy Seattle is asking that we come out this Saturday, October 22nd, to join with communities of color for a noon rally and 2:00 march to express concern about police misconduct. If you can be there, please show your colors: wear an IATSE t-shirt, jacket, cap or button, and carry a Local 15 sign.
In addition, labor is helping to bring supplies to Occupy Seattle. The Boeing Machinists are working on getting Occupy Seattle a generator, as well as medical supplies. If you can provide food, water, blankets or other supplies, please bring them to the office of the Labor Council (Room 206 in the Labor Temple, 2800 1st Avenue in Belltown – just down the hall from Local 15), Monday-Friday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm; or the Seattle/King County Building Trades Council, 6770 E Marginal Way S, Building E, Room 360 (South Seattle Community College, Georgetown Campus), Monday-Friday, 9:00 am – 11:30 am or 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm; or the Teamsters, 14675 Interurban Avenue S, lobby, in Tukwila, Monday-Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. They particularly need: megaphones for general assembly meetings; reflective flags and cones; caution tape; reflective vests; flashlights (preferably the kind you can crank and reuse); rope; duct tape; reusable water bottles; metal spoons; reusable bowls; and – if you’re out late – middle of the night coffee drops. (Please do NOT bring bread, peanut butter or hand sanitizers – they’re overwhelmed with those for right now.)
This is labor’s fight – we are part of the 99%. There’s now an informal labor caucus working to support Occupy Seattle. And it’s working: the New York Times reports that last week’s mobilization was the fifth largest in the country, behind New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland. This weekend is a chance for us to show our community allies that labor is there for more than workplace issues – we want a fair economy with family-wage jobs, but we also want social justice for everyone in our community.
The following email has been approved for Citywide Broadcast by the Mayor’s Office
Point of contact for this Broadcast: Eric Mamroth, Employee Transportation Coordinator, 684-5420
Take Charge of Your Commute!
There will be a 9-day closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct starting October 21 at 7:30 p.m. through October 31 at 5:30 a.m. This closure will affect traffic along the length of the State Route 99 corridor, and long delays are expected on Interstate 5 and other transportation corridors.
The City of Seattle strongly encourages employees to consider alternatives to driving alone to work. Employees can take advantage of many transportation options including the City’s ORCA card.
Special October ORCA Card Offer: Between now and October 28, employees who do not currently have the City’s subsidized ORCA card are encouraged to go to the Treasury Operations Office (Seattle Municipal Tower, 42nd floor) between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, to receive a pre-loaded ORCA card tailored to their transit travel needs. The ORCA card can be used on King County Metro buses, Community Transit buses, Sound Transit Link light rail, Sounder commuter trains and Regional Express buses, Washington State Ferries and the Water Taxi.
Special Vanpool Offer: Alternatively, if you prefer, you can join an existing vanpool or form a new vanpool. The City will reimburse your October costs. Form a new vanpool and receive a $77 gift card from King County Metro Vanpool . Try it for two weeks. When you see how easy it is, you can opt to use your ORCA card subsidy to pay for a Metro vanpool. For more information, contact King County Metro vanpool: firstname.lastname@example.org, 206-625-4500.
Please remember: if you currently have an ORCA card and have not used it in the last two (2) months you need to:
1. Verify that your card still works. To do that, tap it on at ORCA reader on the bus, at a transit center, or at the train platform.
2. If your card does not work, go to the Treasury Operations Office (Seattle Municipal Tower, 42nd floor) between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to get the card replaced. There will be a $5 replacement fee.
Local 15 has had a great, visible presence at Occupy Seattle during the labor mobilizations this past week. On Saturday at least 15 of us were there, with our wonderful, high-visibility Local 15 signs. KOMO-TV news last night had two different shots in which the screen was filled with our signs. And President Willhelm gave a terrific interview to KOMO radio. And I know that our members have been getting down to Westlake whenever they can before and after shifts or on breaks from ACT, 5th Avenue, Paramount and Benaroya Hall.
If you’ve been following what’s happened with Occupy Seattle in the last couple of days, you know that the City has started arresting people who try to camp in Westlake Park overnight. In fact, earlier this week the City took down a Succot tent – part of a religious ritual celebrating a moderately important Jewish holiday – that some of the Occupy Seattle activists had put up.Last night, at the Occupy Seattle General Assembly, there was an overwhelming vote asking for supporters to come down to Westlake Park tomorrow, Saturday October 15th, at 6:00 pm. They want anyone who can to join them in their General Assembly to discuss how to move forward – and they also want a strong showing of public support, to make it clear to the Mayor and the rest of the City government that this is a movement with a real base. I think it’s especially important that we make sure that there’s a strong, visible labor presence – so wear IATSE shirts, jackets, caps, sweatshirts, buttons – and if you have one of our Local 15 signs, please bring it with you.
Theater Workers Unhappy With Contract; Exec Says Kimmel Is at a “Critical Time”
By J. Cooper Robb
On Saturday, Oct. 1, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts canceled all performances at the Kimmel Center, Academy of Music and Merriam Theater. The cause for the disruption was a work stoppage by IATSE, Local 8, the union that represents ushers, box-office personnel, stagehands and wardrobe employees. The Kimmel Center’s contracts with the union expired at midnight Sept. 30. Although no new contract agreement has been reached, the union and Kimmel did manage to agree on Oct. 1 to a one-week “cooling off” period. During that time, performances will continue at the Academy and Merriam as well as the Kimmel’s Verizon Hall, Perelman Theater and Innovation Studio.
What happens next however is anyone’s guess. Kimmel Center President and CEO Anne Ewers issued a statement that the “Kimmel Center leadership is optimistic that the renewed negations will be productive.” In an interview by phone on Monday night, Kimmel Center Senior Vice President Thor Steingraber described the Kimmel as being at a “critical time.” According to Steingraber, the funding the performing-arts center receives from the state of Pennsylvania was reduced from $2 million for the 2010-11 season to $150,000 for the 2011-12 campaign.
Wages and benefits are at the heart of the disagreement. Asked to characterize the talks, Steingraber says the two sides remain apart on both the length and the terms of a new contract. “Taking a long-term contract would be irresponsible for us to do at this time” says Steingraber, pointing to the uncertainty surrounding the Philadelphia Orchestra’s bankruptcy as one reason the Kimmel is seeking a shorter deal than the five-year contract Steingraber said the union proposed. For the time being all performances at the Kimmel Center’s three on site venues as well as the Academy of Music and Merriam Theater are scheduled to proceed as usual. When the two sides do resume negotiations (most likely on Mon., Oct. 10) the Philadelphia Orchestra will be mere days away from their opening night (Oct. 13) followed by the launch of the Orchestra’s new season on Oct 14. Steingraber said that on Oct. 1, the Kimmel alerted patrons of the cancellations and offered to refund or exchange tickets for the canceled performances. Steingraber said that the Kimmel is prepared to do the same in the event of any future cancellations. He also reported that in the event of a work stoppage, the Kimmel may look into staging events at alternate venues around the city. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees represents about 1,000 workers at the Kimmel Center, Merriam Theater and Academy of Music.
Sisters and Brothers,
In the early morning hours today, Saturday, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) anad the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) reached agreement with Verizon on a pathway to commence serious bargaining over major issues. As a result of this agreement all picketing and leafleting at stores, work sites and other events will cease beginning today. The union contracts have been extended. Below is an official statement from the unions.
This happened in part due to the massive outpouring of public solidarity demonstrated throughout the nation in standing with the 45,000 workers on strike at Verizon. Here in Seattle many union members and community supporters – including Local 15 members – joined CWA and IBEW workers in picketing Verizon stores.
The fight isn’t over – there’s no new contract, and Verizon hasn’t backed down from its efforts to inflate their already huge profits at the expense of their employees. But it’s a good start.
Thanks to those of you who joined in on the picket lines. I’ll keep you posted on any further developments.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Following is a statement by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers:
For release 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011
Washington, D.C. – Members of CWA and IBEW at Verizon Communications will return to work on Tuesday, Aug. 23, at which time the contract will be back in force for an indefinite period.
We have reached agreement with Verizon on how bargaining will proceed and how it will be restructured. The major issues remain to be discussed, but overall, issues now are focused and narrowed.
We appreciate the unity of our members and the support of so many in the greater community. Now we will focus on bargaining fairly and moving forward.
CWA and IBEW represent 45,000 workers at Verizon covered by this contract from Virginia to New England.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS POST HAD THE WRONG DATE FOR THE RALLY- THE MARCH WILL BE ON SATURDAY, JULY 30TH, AS BELOW (NOT THE 23RD)
March for a Decent Future
on Medicare’s Birthday
No cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security
Saturday, July 30th, 12:00 n – 2:00 pm
Safeco Field (1st & Atlantic)
We’re facing an unprecedented attack on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – just at the point when our health care is most at risk.
Not only the right wing, but President Obama and some Congressional Democrats are talking about balancing the budget by raising the retirement age at which we can collect Medicare and Social Security, reducing benefits or eliminating cost-of-living increases and other mechanisms to place the burden for the national debt on working people.
Local 15’s membership has endorsed single-payer healthcare as the best solution for the problems that we’re facing in maintaining our own benefits, and extending affordable quality healthcare to all.
As with the hotel workers’ rally, let’s make sure that Local 15 has a visible presence at this action, part of a national campaign with rallies all over the country. If you’re planning to come, please let me know (206-441-1515, ext. 225; email@example.com) so that we’ll have enough Local 15 signs to show everyone that we’re in the house.
This event is sponsored by United for Single Payer-Seattle, Physicians for a National Health Plan-Western Washington, Health Care for All-Washington, and Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans.
There are two important actions coming up that Local 15 members should support if possible. There will be a separate post for the second rally, but on Friday:
Rally for Worker Justice at Seattle Luxury Hotels
Friday, July 22nd 4-6pm
Westin Hotel(1900 5th Ave, corner of Virginia, Seattle)
This rally is led by the members of UNITE HERE 8, the hospitality workers union. These workers have already staged one picket at the Westin. We will be joined by unions and members visiting and working in the hotel.
This summer, 1400 hotel workers whose union contracts have expired are joining together to fight for a better life. Most are workers of color, immigrant, women, or LGBT who are uniting to demand a share in the economic recovery that hotels have enjoyed. They are trying to transform hospitality jobs into middle class jobs for themselves and many thousand yet to be organized workers.
During the recession, hotels protected their profits by cutting staff and increasing workloads for already overburdened workers. According to the industry’s own projections, hotels will be returning to record profit levels by 2012.
Union contracts covering over 1,400 workers have expired in hotels and restaurants including the Westin, Edgewater, Seattle Hilton, Washington Athletic Club, Space Needle, SeaTac Hilton, and the Doubletree.
“Hotel workers can sometimes seem invisible,” says Erik Van Rossum, Secretary-Treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 8, the union representing the workers in the campaign. “They create luxury in Seattle’s hotels by cleaning the rooms, washing the dishes, and cooking the food, among other thankless jobs. But now they are standing up with one voice to demand respect and fairness.”
Local 15 is hoping to work with UNITE HERE Local 8 to encourage more Union AV work in the hotels represented by Local 8, including the Westin. It’s important that we have a good showing with Local 15 signs, to let our sisters and brothers in Local 8 know that we support them! If you’re planning to go, please let BR Paul Bigman know (206-441-1515, ext. 225; firstname.lastname@example.org) so that we’ll have enough Local 15 signs.
More pickets and rallies are planned including one on August 4 at 4:30pm in SeaTac. Stay tuned for more details
For more information, contact Jasmine Marwaha of Local 8 at 206-470-2993