Listen: Chicago IATSE
Devastating Impact of Strikes on Chicago IATSE Local’s Health Plan Revealed
The ongoing strikes by the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA are wreaking havoc on union health plans in the entertainment industry. IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 476 in Chicago, which represents crew members working on films and TV shows in the Windy City, faces dire consequences. With a lack of contributions and overwhelming claims, their Health and welfare reserves are on the verge of collapse. The union is taking drastic measures, including freezing banked hours and changing eligibility, which could leave thousands of members without coverage.
This situation in Chicago could be the beginning. A letter sent to members by the local Health & Welfare Fund reveals that the strikes have led to an “unprecedented job loss and economic suffering.” Employer contributions to the health plan for IATSE’s West Coast locals have reportedly decreased by $150 million due to the strikes.
The local’s health plan relies on hours worked for employer contributions. With little to no work available, the reserves for Local 476 are depleting rapidly, forcing trustees to intervene to keep it afloat. Members are already feeling the impact, with one revealing on social media that they will lose all their banked hours and coverage due to the inability to pay the self-pay rate.
As the strikes continue, it’s clear that the effects are not limited to Local 476. The Health & Welfare Fund states that the strikes have resulted in a deficit of more than 510,000 hours of work, leading to a loss of over $3.4 million in contributions. The situation is also affecting other IATSE locals on the West Coast, with a reported $150 million decrease in Health and welfare contributions.
The strikes are detrimental to bargaining unit work and the union benefit funds. Medical and prescription claims have skyrocketed while contributions have dwindled. The dire impact of these strikes on union health plans is becoming increasingly apparent, and immediate action is needed to prevent further damage.
The future of union health plans hangs in the balance as the entertainment industry grapples with the consequences of prolonged strikes.
Work can be unpredictable even in normal times. To address this, participants in the Fund can bank their hours and use them for self-pay as long as they have worked for 30 days in the previous year. However, banked hours have been putting a strain on the Fund, especially over the past four months.
As a result, the Health and welfare reserves are currently at an all-time low, prompting the Board of Trustees to implement cost-saving measures to ensure the Fund’s financial stability. Unfortunately, further changes may be necessary in the future.
One of the implemented changes involves freezing banked hours for the fourth quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of 2024. Although participants will continue to accrue banked hours as per the normal rules, they will not be able to use those hours to maintain eligibility for health insurance.
In addition, it will be harder to qualify for coverage under the local health plan. The initial eligibility requirement changes from 300 hours in one quarter to 600 hours in two consecutive quarters. Furthermore, the copay for prescription drugs will be significantly increased.
These changes have been made out of necessity to protect the Fund, including the hard-earned banked hours of the members. The trustees are working with service providers to find cost-saving solutions and explore all available options.
It is important to note that the local’s pension fund is not facing any issues at this time.