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Healthcare costs are likely to dominate Hollywood contract talks

March 08, 2012|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

The largest union representing Hollywood's technical workers has begun contract negotiations with the major studios amid concerns that rising healthcare costs could lead to cuts in health and pension benefits for below-the-line crew members.

The largest union representing Hollywood's technical workers has begun contract negotiations with the major studios amid concerns that rising healthcare costs could lead to cuts in health and pension benefits for below-the-line crew members.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — which represents more than 100,000 entertainment industry workers, including cinematographers, set decorators and prop masters — on Wednesday began negotiating a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The current contract expires July 31.

Teamsters Local 399, which represents more than 4,000 drivers and other crafts unions, will also take part in the talks as part of a new bargaining alliance with IATSE.

The parties have set aside four weeks of talks, first to hash out agreements with more than a dozen crafts locals that belong to IATSE, then to negotiate the so-called Hollywood Basic Agreement, which covers issues affecting all the locals, including health and pension benefits. The latter is expected to dominate the agenda.

Like many other unions, IATSE and the Teamsters face a large deficit in their health and pension plans — projected to be at least $300 million over the next three years — because of rising medical costs. The health and pension plans are funded by residual payments and employer contributions.

How to close that gap will be a major focus of the negotiations, as it was in contract talks with talent unions that received increases in employer contributions to their plans. Union leaders could agree to raise eligibility requirements as they did in in 2009 — when they raised to 400 from 300 the minimum number of hours that members must required to work over a six-month period. That change, however, sparked a backlash among some IATSE members.

Union leaders from IATSE and Teamsters have been prepping their members for months that they could be forced to accept some cuts to their health and pension benefits.

"Costs of care and insurance have been going up at an alarming rate for the last decade or more," Leo Reed, president of Teamsters Local 399, said in a message to members posted on the union's website.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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