WGA Standoff Continues With AMPTP Over Extension Of Film & TV Contract That Expires Friday

The standoff continues between the WGA and the AMPTP, whose film and TV contract expires Friday night at midnight. The chief stumbling block to an extension of the pact has been the guild’s insistence that the trustees of the WGA Health Plan adopt an amendment to the plan extending eligibility to participants who will lose coverage through the end of the year if they fail to meet the earnings threshold and don’t have extended care points to continue their coverage.

Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers president Carol Lombardini addressed the issue in an email to WGA West executive director David Young today.Last week, Young called the AMPTP “despicable” for not agreeing to extend the health coverage, even though the AMPTP does not control the Health Plan.

“As I have previously mentioned, the ultimate authority to make these decisions lies with the Trustees of the Health Plan, but the bargaining parties can and should provide the Trustees with input,” she wrote. “If you would like to raise the issue for discussion at a meeting of the Trustees, we are amenable to that path. Alternatively, if you would prefer to have discussions during our upcoming negotiations in a few weeks, we are also prepared to take the matter up at that time.”

Lombardini added: “For the most part, the COVID-19-related shutdowns in mid-March did not prevent writers from working during the last two weeks of March 2020. Hence, we anticipate that the number of participants who will lose coverage as of June 30, 2020 due to loss of employment caused by the pandemic is small.”

The WGA has not yet responded to a request for comment, but earlier today, the guild’s Contract 2020 web page removed this line about the current contract’s expiration date, which has been posted on the site for months: “The current Writers Guild of America Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) expires on May 1, 2020.”

The AMPTP, which had been waiting for a response from the guild, has proposed that they extend their contract until June 30 – the same date as the expiration of the current SAG-AFTRA contract. SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP began negotiations for a new contract on Monday.

The AMPTP maintains that WGA is asking for a much longer extension of health coverage — through the end of the year — than any other of the industry other guilds and unions have received. The DGA Plan, for instance, gave participants relief from payment of health plan premiums for one quarter (3 months), while SAG-AFTRA gave participants a 50% discount in payment of health plan premiums for one quarter (three months).

The IATSE National Benefit Funds gave everyone who had health coverage as of March 31 and would lose it on April 1, 2020, will get one additional three months of continued health coverage if they would otherwise not qualify for any plan; however, they could be downgraded to a lower level of coverage. People who would have to pay for coverage starting on July 1, 2020 to stay in their current plan will be allowed to remain in that plan for an additional quarter without any out-of-pocket charge.

And the Motion Picture Industry Plans have only given relief to people whose qualifying period ended on April 25. People who had at least 100 hours in their qualifying period will have an additional six months of coverage.

Here is the full text of Lombardini’s letter to Young:

Dear David:

As promised, I have completed internal discussions regarding the WGA’s request to amend the Producer-WGA Health Plan provisions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and extend eligibility for health coverage through the end of 2020 to participants who fail to meet the earnings threshold needed to qualify for continued health coverage after June 30, 2020 and September 30, 2020.

As part of those discussions, the AMPTP Companies examined their productions and found that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a very different impact on writers’ employment as compared to other workers in the motion picture industry. While the pandemic forced Companies to halt physical production in mid-March and cease employing directors, performers and crew members, writers’ rooms have remained open over the past two months and the vast majority of both television/new media and screen writing projects have continued to move forward uninterrupted. We therefore need to structure any extension so that it focuses on writers who lost coverage due to the pandemic. To the extent that there are writers who would have qualified for coverage in the absence of the COVID-19-related shutdowns, we are certainly willing to discuss appropriate adjustments to address their needs.

The first step will be to identify the population of affected writers. As you know, eligibility for continued health coverage depends on satisfying an earnings threshold during a four consecutive quarter earnings cycle. Participants whose coverage is set to expire on June 30, 2020 must meet the threshold based on earnings during the period April 1, 2019 through March 31, 2020 in order to maintain coverage past June 30, 2020. For the most part, the COVID-19-related shutdowns in
mid-March did not prevent writers from working during the last two weeks of March 2020. Hence, we anticipate that the number of participants who will lose coverage as of June 30, 2020 due to loss of employment caused by the pandemic is small.

The other group of participants whose coverage will expire on September 30th of this year will be evaluated based on earnings during the period July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020. We believe it is premature to make any decisions about this group at this time, and that we should wait until we are able to ascertain which writers have lost health coverage because of lost work opportunities attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic before discussing any adjustments to those eligibility requirements. We may find that most writers are able to continue working between now and June 30, 2020, as they have during the past two months.

As I have previously mentioned, the ultimate authority to make these decisions lies with the Trustees of the Health Plan, but the bargaining parties can and should provide the Trustees with input. If you would like to raise the issue for discussion at a meeting of the Trustees, we are amenable to that path. Alternatively, if you would prefer to have discussions during our upcoming negotiations in a few weeks, we are also prepared to take the matter up at that time.

In the meantime, please contact me so that we can arrange for a convenient time to exchange proposals on May 1, 2020 and work out the schedule for negotiations beyond the May 11, 2020 start date.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Carol A. Lombardini

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