Healthy health plan
SAG drops plan for tightening eligibility
By DAVE MCNARY
Hollywood actors will begin receiving upbeat news next week about their health plan — a marked contrast from the negative developments of recent years.
Trustees of the SAG Health Plan are due to announce elimination of a scheduled 5% hike in eligibility requirements, lowered eligibility for thesps over 40, improved benefits in the dental plan and easier access for performers covered by AFTRA’s plan. The 41,000 or so participants in the SAG plan will receive details of the changes through the plan’s Take 2 newsletter.
The moves come three years after trustees of the plan — jointly administered by reps of SAG and the Hollywood studios — were forced by skyrocketing medical costs to announce first-ever premiums plus another round of tightened eligibility floors and benefit reductions following the initial announcement in August 2001.
“In 2003, when the plan faced a major deficit that threatened its very existence, the trustees instituted a three-part plan: the participant premium, the eligibility escalator and a reduction in benefits,” the plan told participants. “While we still face double-digit increases in the cost of health care, the plan’s finances have stabilized.”
The improvements in finances also came from heightened employer contributions to the plan. Last year’s 1% hike in health and pension contributions through the film-TV pact increased revenues by an estimated $60 million over the contract’s three-year life.
Plan currently covers about 17,000 active earners, 5,500 retirees, 2,500 self-pay participants and 16,000 dependents. Participation has fallen by about 10,000 since the 2003 changes, with most of those opting out due to access to alternative coverage.
Trustees highlighted the lowered eligibility for thesps over 40, which drops the Plan II eligibility level from $13,790 in the four previous quarters to $10,000 in that period — if they’ve accumulated 10 years of eligibilty. The 10 years do not need to be consecutive.
“The trustees wanted to target the changes in eligibility where they would do the most good,” plan administrator Bruce Dow told Daily Variety. “Older actors who lose eligibility in this plan also face a significantly higher premium if they have to purchase private insurance.”
Other key changes going into effect next year include the following:
Previously scheduled 5% hikes in the eligibility levels for Plan I (currently at $28,120 in earnings in the four previous quarters) and Plan II (currently at $13,790 or 74 days of employment) have been eliminated.
The trustees have set a target of 3% annual hikes in eligibility but will not make that automatic for 2008, pending a decision next July.
Dental benefits will be increased, with the annual maximum rising to $2,500 from $1,500 under Plan I and to $1,000 from $500 under Plan II.
The SAG plan will act as the primary plan for covered participants who opt out of AFTRA’s health plan next year, when major hikes in eligibility and benefit cuts go into effect. The most notable change calls for AFTRA’s four-quarter earnings minimum to jump from the current $10,000 to $15,000 as of July 1 for the lowest tier of heath-care coverage.
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Although, it don’t happen a lot, it is a refreshing change to post strictly good news. It also highlights how SAG members get the short end of the P&H stick every time they to do an acting job under an AFTRA contract that should have been a SAG one! (Under AFTRA the accrual rate is less than half of that of the SAG plan, and the quarterly premiums as of next mouth will be four times as much as SAG’s.)
Hey, they reminds me I still haven’t done part two of the Susan Boyd memo in which she tells us how much better the AFTRA plan is.
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief
Canadian Actors Prepare to Strike. And former SAG President finds Calling.
Canadian Actors Prepare to Strike
Will SAG members walk the line with them?
December 07, 2006
By Lauren Horwitch
U.S. actors are already enjoying holiday down-time: TV series are on hiatus, film production has slowed, curtains are coming down on many plays, and thesps are making their way home to families eager to hear about their adventures in acting. Actors north of the border, however, are preparing for what could be a not-so-happy new year. Rocky contract negotiations between North American producers and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists are increasing the likelihood that ACTRA’s 21,000 members will go on strike early next year.
The Screen Actors Guild has pledged to support ACTRA, whose members refused work and set up picket lines during SAG’s commercials strike in 2000. In a Nov. 8 statement, SAG officials expressed their solidarity, stating the union would encourage its members to turn down work on U.S.-financed productions shooting in Canada and on productions relocated from Canada to the States or other countries.
But will SAG members follow orders if a Canadian strike ensues? Actors whose bank accounts have been badly bruised by runaway production to Canada might feel otherwise.
Negotiations for ACTRA’s new Independent Production Agreement with U.S. and Canadian English-language producers (represented by the Canadian Film and Television Production Association) and Quebec producers (aligned with the Association des Producteurs de Films et de Tlvision du Qubec) began Oct. 23 but quickly derailed over the key issues of wages, residuals, and working conditions.
“We’re looking for equitable increases in minimum fees, better protection in terms of working conditions for performers, and improving use fees [residuals],” said ACTRA lead negotiator Stephen Waddell. To that end, ACTRA has asked for a 15 percent raise in minimum pay rates over three years and parity by 2006 with what SAG members are paid on big-budget shoots in Canada.
However, according to Waddell, CFTPA negotiators are not only rejecting an increase, they’re demanding that actors’ existing daily rates be reduced by 25 percent. Waddell said ACTRA’s current fees are already 23 percent behind SAG’s, not counting the exchange rate. The current minimum rate for a principal ACTRA actor is $565 Canadian per eight-hour day. Under SAG’s TV/Theatrical Agreement, a union dayplayer’s minimum rate is $737.
Waddell also pointed out that foreign producers are reaping the benefits of Canada’s generous production tax credits. “In response to the U.S. producers, we’re saying, ‘Hey, you already got a great deal here. Don’t be looking for more concessions from us.’ Our members are second to none and therefore should be paid equivalent to U.S. performers,” he said.
Canada’s production tax incentive program has indeed been good to that country’s economy. A report published earlier this year by the Center for Entertainment Industry Data and Research in Encino, Calif., showed feature film production in Canada grew from $430 million in 1998 (the year its tax incentive program was introduced) to $1.2 billion in 2005. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has lost approximately $23 billion to runaway production.
However, said CFTPA head negotiator John Barrack, actors must remember that Canada is competing with lucrative tax programs in other countries and in U.S. states such as New York, Louisiana, and Arizona. “There’s no great incentive to come here. We’re in a very competitive global marketplace, and ACTRA needs to recognize that,” he said.
According to Barrack, the potential ACTRA strike is already scaring away major U.S. productions. “[The Untitled Pink Panther Sequel] was going to go to Montreal; it’s not going there. Disney was going to do [National Treasure II: The Book of Secrets]over a $100 million film in Toronto; it’s not going to happen.” As for the 25 percent pay rollback, Barrack said, CFTPA took that off the table long ago. “We did that well before we got here. We made a very conscious decision to unilaterally take a number of our proposals with respect to discounts off the table,” he said.
“That’s not true,” answered Waddell. “[Barrack] was prepared to withdraw that particular proposalprovided that we came up with a new business development plan that would provide additional incentives to attract work to Canada.” Those incentives were not specified in Barrack’s proposal. Waddell added that 25 percent rollback is one of 80 proposals submitted by CFTPA, many of which call for other reductions.
The ACTRA negotiator also insisted Canada’s tax incentive program is still superior to deals producers may find in the States: “As soon as you cross the border, you’ve got at least a 10 percent discount with respect to currency. If you’re a U.S. producer shooting in Canada, you get an 18 percent tax credit. So, you’re up to 28 percent…. Where can you get a better deal than that anywhere in the U.S.?” He added that the productions cited by Barrack never planned to shoot in Canada. “There’s no need for any production to leave Canada,” Waddell said. “All they have to do is sign a continuation letter with ACTRA and they’ll be protected.” By signing a continuation letter, a production shooting past the contract’s expiration date (Dec. 31) will be protected in the event of a strike provided the producer pays a 5 percent increase in rates and an extra 2 percent into actors’ pension and retirement funds.
Reactions Run the Gamut
One thing is certain: ACTRA members are ready to strike if necessary. “Without exception, every member that I have talked tois solidly in favor of the strong stand that we are taking,” Waddell said. “ACTRA members are returning their ballots [mailed out Nov. 15] in record numbers. We believe it’s going to be the highest return of any actor referendum ever.” The strike ballots are due Dec. 15. Having the support of SAG, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and other performers’ unions in the International Federation of Actors is key to the negotiator, especially because ACTRA assisted SAG on the frontlines during the 2000 commercials strike.
“We refused to provide services on any U.S. commercial that came into Canada to evade the strike. We set up picket lines around productions that tried to produce here,” Waddell noted. “And we even caught Tiger Woods doing Buick commercials in 2000, which he tried to do in London, Ontario. We informed SAG, and as a result of that, Tiger Woods was fined [$100,000].”
What’s more, SAG will be facing many of the same producers when the union renegotiates its TV/Theatrical and Commercials contracts in October 2008. Should SAG seek to strike on either of those pacts, it would certainly look to ACTRA for support.
Actor Suzanne Du Charme, who worked at SAG’s New York strike headquarters in 2000, said she wouldn’t accept work in Canada during an ACTRA strike. “We could not have held tough for so long without the support that we received from so many groups,” she wrote via email. “I think it only fair to support our fellow actors north of the border. I wish them a speedy resolution to their contract negotiations.”
Mother-daughter actors Donna and Christel Wright of Baxley, Ga., would also support their Canadian counterparts. “As much as we would love to finally get some paying jobs, we could never cross a picket line,” they wrote in an email to Back Stage. “We see no reason why we should wait to support our fellow actors. They’re fighting for our futures as much as theirs.”
But the issue was not as clear-cut for others. “It’s a double-edge sword for me,” wrote an actor named Donald, who requested to be identified by his first name only. “Yes, I would support SAG and not work in Canada, but I would not, in theory, support the strike itself. Living and being a working actor in New York City, I have seen over the past few years so much work go north.”
Another actor who requested anonymity said she wouldn’t support the Canadians because they are competition. “The Canadian actors were more than happy to take all the jobs on the new American-produced TV shows that were being done in Canada,” the actor wrote on an online message board. “Now the producers are running to Romania, Bulgaria, and Prague [Czech Republic]. What’s next, five years from now we support a strike of Romanian and Bulgarian actors?”
Pamm Fair, SAG’s deputy national executive director of policy and strategic planning, insisted the American and Canadian unions must have each other’s support to strike successfully.
“If SAG and ACTRA do not stick together, the alternative is for union members to take the jobs of their striking counterparts and providing a highly skilled talent pool. A strike is far less effective if workers can be replaced with skilled workers as opposed to amateurs,” she wrote in an email.
Waddell was disappointed when told of some of the American actors’ comments. “It’s based a lot on ignorance. Clearly, these people are not thinking as unionists, as they should be,” he said. “They should be supporting us because we’re fighting the good fight that they’re going to be up against in just about a year.”
December 8, 2006
Applause for actress turned activist Melissa Gilbert
By JONDI GUMZ
Sentinel staff writer
Actress Melissa Gilbert told 300 women Friday that she wants to change the world.
She wants to make sure every child facing a life-threatening illness receives hospice care. Judging from the sold-out reception she received at the Cocoanut Grove, Santa Cruz will help her reach that goal.
Gilbert, famous for playing Laura on television’s “Little House on the Prairie,” has a new role: President of the Children’s Hospice & Palliative Care Coalition, which is based in Watsonville.
Wearing spike heels and a sophisticated geometric pattern dress accentuating her figure, she radiated Hollywood glamour. Members of the Santa Cruz Chamber Women in Business group, which had invited her to speak, lined up to meet her, cameras in hand.
“We grew up watching her on TV,” said Alicia Flores of Bay Federal Credit Union.
“My 9 year old is just starting to read the books,” added co-worker Dawn Wingert.
When Gilbert spoke, it was clear she has left behind the world of make-believe. At the same time, she’s using her celebrity to bring attention to her cause.
She mailed out “today is a gift have fun” and “only love” bracelets, designed by Zia Jewelry, formerly of Soquel, to her friends. The next thing she knew actor Johnny Depp a parent like Gilbert was wearing the bracelet. Proceeds from sales of the $45 bracelets go to fund music therapists, nurses and other hospice services for children and their families.
“This statistic just kills me 92 percent of kids die in uncontrolled pain,” Gilbert said. “That is unacceptable.”
When someone dies at an advanced age, family members are able to look back at the meaningful points in their life, but with infants and children, there is a “loss of the future,” explained Ann Pomper of Hospice Caring Project of Santa Cruz County.
Trained hospice workers can help families, creating memories for them, often with handprints or locks of hair.
In the past, parents had to choose between hospice care and aggressive treatment of disease, a choice that Gilbert lobbied in Sacramento to change.
What made an actress like Gilbert change her priorities? She credited Lori Butterworth of Santa Cruz.
Butterworth, who started a nonprofit in 1998 to help children cope with cancer and is co-founder of Children’s Hospice, met Gilbert at a party in Los Angeles and asked her to help.
Gilbert called her “the blond tornado who nailed me into a wall,” but she soon realized this job made more sense than being president of the Screen Actors Guild.
As a mother of a son born three months premature, she knew the heartbreak of the neonatal unit. She’s also convinced that supporting children who are very sick can help them get better.
Her involvement, she added, has changed her life.
“I don’t care about traffic, or broken vases, or fender-benders,” she said, explaining that those worries pale beside the needs of children facing death. “It’s extraordinary to be part of something that will change the world.”
Contact Jondi Gumz at firstname.lastname@example.org
HOW TO HELP
Bracelets, silver-plated or leather: $45 plus tax and shipping. Order online at www.childrenshospice.org.
Celebrity auction, with items donated by Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Hanks, Mandy Moore and others, at www.childrenshospice.org.
Donations can be mailed to Children’s Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition, 65 Nielson St. #108, Watsonville, CA 95076. The Packard Foundation will match every donation. For information, call 763-3070.
Formatting and Photo SW’s.