Good News from the Health Fund

Recording Vice-President's Report

Volume CVIII, No. 2February, 2008

Bill Dennison

There is encouraging news to report regarding the Local 802 Health Benefits Fund. For the first full benefit period following the Broadway contract settlement last March, most of the members who were on the union health plan have seen a marked improvement in their level of coverage.

For the Oct. 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008 coverage period, the number of members who have qualified for either the new Plan A+ coverage or the old Plan A coverage has jumped to 1,317 from 1,163, which is an increase of 154 members. If you include dependents, a total of 190 members, spouses and children now have vastly improved health coverage, and this is in addition to those whose coverage is now Plan A+.

As you may remember, the Plan A+ coverage raises the cap on benefits to $250,000 from $50,000 per covered individual per year, raises out-of-network payments to 70 percent from 50 percent and improves prescription benefits.

Some 530 members were able to achieve this Plan A+ coverage level. This is about 200 more than the number of regular chairs on Broadway, which means that a good number of substitutes were able to qualify for the improved coverage.

Those who were able to achieve the Plan A level of coverage numbered 787. (Plan A is our major medical plan; it’s capped at $50,000 per individual per year and it includes a prescription plan.) A large proportion of these members were formerly on Plan B, so their shift of coverage from Plan B to Plan A is also a dramatic improvement. (Plan B is capped at $5,000 per year and does not include prescriptions.)

While this is certainly great news, we should not forget the work that remains. The health benefits available for many of the rest of our members continue to be sadly lacking. Those that remain on Plan B — some 630 members — have very limited protection. Many others have no coverage at all, or are paying market rates, which can range from $250 a month for individual coverage all the way up to $1,200 a month for family coverage.

There are a number of contract negotiations coming up that, like the Broadway negotiations, will have to include sharp increases in health benefit contributions if the improvements achieved on Broadway are to be expanded to members working elsewhere.

With the merger of the Local 802 Health Benefits Fund and Theatre Sick Pay and Hospitalization Fund, there is now a stronger financial base to build upon in this expansion of benefits.

Even as we continue to work to increase health coverage for musicians, there is a bigger picture. 2008 is an election year and a broader resolution of the health care crisis is of paramount importance. At the New York State level, unfortunately there does not appear to be much progress. Governor Spitzer’s annual “State of the State” address laid out no real plans to improve health benefit options. On the national level, however, there is some hope. All of the major Democratic presidential candidates have made this issue a focus of their campaigns and have laid out plans that open up real possibilities for a national solution. (No Republican candidate of whom I’m aware has offered anything other than critiques of “European-socialized” medicine. We should be so lucky!)


Last month, President Landolfi and I were able to attend a forum presented by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations that focused on the economics of New York’s arts and entertainment industry.

What we heard were generally upbeat reports about the economic health of the industry and its increasing importance to our city and state.

The three biggest components in order of size are: television and motion picture production, nonprofit cultural institutions and commercial theatre.

Television and motion picture production saw the largest growth, from a $3.8 billion business in 1992 to $6.6 billion in 2005. These numbers represent the economic impact of the business, meaning the total of the direct investment in labor and capital along with the ancillary jobs and sales that are generated by this initial investment.

While more film and TV production work is being done in New York, we’re not yet seeing a proportional increase in scoring work — at least not under union agreements. It’s clear from the size and resources available to this part of the industry that this can and should be a focus of our attention and our organizing efforts. Money is being made in cable production, children’s programming and what used to be “indie” film work — work that is more and more low or moderate budget film production. If you’re doing any of this work I urge you to be in touch with Local 802’s Recording or Organizing departments.

While not experiencing the same level of growth, New York’s nonprofit cultural institutions have also expanded. The economic impact of the nonprofits has gone from $3.6 billion in 1992 to $5.8 billion in 2005. This is perhaps the best argument to our elected officials to keep the dollars flowing to these cultural institutions — they pay off in terms of the city’s economic health!

The third biggest component of New York’s arts and entertainment industry is commercial theatre, and here too, the growth has been healthy — from $1.2 billion in 1992 to $2 billion in 2005. Over this period of time we have seen the opening of two new Broadway houses (the New Amsterdam and the Hilton theatres) as well as several new LORT theatres (the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines and Studio 54 spaces and the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Biltmore Theatre). Keeping this industry healthy and live should be a focus of our efforts with the city elected officials.