Filed in: News, Union Roundup

IATSE, AMPTP Forge Basic Agreement

December 8, 2008 08:53 | By

A significant increase in the “hours worked” requirement needed by guild members to qualify for health and pension benefits is part of the new three-year contract recently negotiated between the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees on behalf of Hollywood guilds and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

While 300 hours of work per six month period is the present minimum, that is set to rise to 400 hours during the new contract’s third year, which starts August 1, 2011 and runs to its expiration on July 31, 2012.

News of the rollback comes at a time of considerable stress in the economy. And a 40 percent decline in the stock market over the last 12 months has put a dent into all pension plans, as well as individuals’ personal retirement accounts.

IATSE has yet to officially reveal the exact terms of the new master contract, which goes into effect next August 1 but must first be voted on by the town’s 17 craft guilds covered by it. But a summary of the basic agreement was included in an email from International Cinematographers Guild president Steven Poster that was posted on Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood blog.

“Because of the rapidly increasing cost of healthcare and the deepening recession, the IATSE had to make some painful decisions in order to protect the benefit structure of the active and retiree health plans,” says Poster in the email.

“We do know this 100-hour increase will be difficult for some of our members,” he continued, noting that the agreement was still tentative. ICG executive director Bruce Doering at a Western Regional Council meeting held on December 3 claimed that the increase represented a compromise because AMPTP had initially asked for a doubling in the hours worked requirement to 600, according to the blog.

Putting a positive spin on the agreement, Poster noted that “one of the accomplishments of these negotiations is that, despite the economic crisis, the Union was successful in preventing the Producers from requiring IATSE members to co-pay the cost of health insurance premiums for themselves or family members.”

Members will still be able to bank up to 450 hours to be used against any shortfall during a six-month period. But the increase to a 400-hour work minimum could more quickly dissipate the hours banked during any hiatus or lay- offs, leaving an increasing number of members at risk of not qualifying for health and pension benefits. A considerable percentage of the IA’s Hollywood guild members are thought to have few if any hours banked. Some other details of the basic agreement in the summary:

• An increase in current wages of 3 percent per year, compounded in each year of the three-year agreement. This is the best wage package since the 2000 negotiations.

• On original programs made for new media, IATSE increased its jurisdiction to cover these new media consistent with the DGA, WGA and AFTRA.

• Under the pension plan, a negotiated 13th and 14th check for current retirees in each year of the agreement, and elimination of the requirement that conditioned payment on a minimum of eight months reserves in the active health plan.

• Protection of pensions by bargaining for a funding plan that over time will mitigate the effect of the unfavorable investment climate and prevent reductions in pensions.

• Increased employer contributions into the health plan by $.35 per year for a total of $164 million over the life of the agreement. And additional employer contributions of $.15 per hour when the health plan reserves fall below 10 months for actives, plus an additional $.15 if reserve levels fall below six months in the active plan or eight months in the retiree plan or on July 31, 2011, whichever is earlier. These contributions amount to an additional $35 million.

• Out of network: Co-insurance paid by participants utilizing out-of-network hospital and professional services will be increased from 30 percent to 50 percent while allowances for the usual and customary charges for these services will be reduced from 85 to 70 percent.

• The annual cap on in-network hospital and professional out-of-pocket costs increased from $800 to $1,000. For example, if your hospital and doctor’s bills total $45,000, the maximum you have to pay is $1,000 for these bills.