The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CII, No. 12December, 2002

Why Not Make Health Payments Optional?
Click here for Local 802’s response

To the Editor:

I recently had a conversation with a contractor with whom I have had a long-term working relationship. He has mentioned to me on various occasions the frustration he has felt at having to pay out health benefits for musicians which he suspected are not used.

I’m all for benefits. I’m happy to be building a pension on jobs booked through signatory contractors and I would like to be able to make pension payments on jobs that I book myself. I would gladly do that for subcontracted musicians as well, and the work dues are also not a problem. But the cost of paying health benefits which largely go to no use makes doing so prohibitive.

There are two reasons that so many musicians don’t or can’t use their health benefits:

  1. The benefit doesn’t kick in without a certain amount of work, so that part-time freelancers are largely ineligible.
  2. The health plan offered is inferior to just about any other insurance around; at least it was last time I checked.

So musicians who have access to other insurance tend to use it instead. In my case I have been using the health insurance that I get from my wife’s corporate job.

I would like to suggest that it would benefit all parties if there were some program in place to make health benefit payments optional. It would probably not be a good idea to simply allow musicians to choose whether or not to take the benefit and allow contractors to pay it out or not according to the musicians’ wishes. That would make hiring musicians who don’t take the benefit more attractive to the contractor. But perhaps having an option of making the payment to the health fund or adding it or part of it to the musician’s paycheck, or applying it or part of it to a union-endorsed charity would work. I don’t know of the legalities involved, but I understand this contractor’s frustration at having to pay out thousands of dollars for nothing, and it seems that some options should be explored.

–Rich Siegel