AMPTP Responds to Writers Guild’s Health Plan Extension Request After Attack From Lead Negotiator

Jeremy Fuster

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers sent a response on Thursday to the Writers Guild of America’s request that the organization’s studios help the WGA in extending its health plan to assist those who may no longer meet the earnings threshold because of layoffs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The response comes after WGA Executive Director David Young attacked the AMPTP after President Carol Lombardini said she would have to discuss the guild’s request with its member studios. Young wrote in a terse reply, “You people are despicable,” resulting in AMPTP and WGA breaking off plans to negotiate a new contract starting on May 11. AMPTP has instead entered into negotiations with SAG-AFTRA starting this week.

In the letter, Lombardini says that that the pandemic has had a “very different impact on writers’ employment” compared to workers like directors, actors, and crew members involved in production. In order for any eligibility extension to move forward, the AMPTP wants to identify exactly how many writers have had their job status affected by the pandemic.

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“As you know, eligibility for continued health coverage depends on satisfying an earnings threshold during a four consecutive quarter earnings cycle,” Lombardini wrote. “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.”

The AMPTP also argues that the WGA is asking for a longer health plan extension than other Hollywood guilds like the DGA, which gave its plan members relief from premiums for three months, and SAG-AFTRA, which offered 50% discount on premiums for the next three months. The Motion Picture Industry Plan has only given relief to people whose qualifying period ended on April 25, giving six additional months of coverage to those who had at least 100 hours logged in their qualifying period.

“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,” Lombardini 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.”

The WGA did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Read the full letter from Lombardini to Young below.

Also Read: WGA Director Blasts 'Despicable' AMPTP in Conflict Over Guild's Health Plan

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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