Monday, June 18, 2007

Way to go, Innovative.

From today's Variety: Innovative cuts health benefits, by Michael Fleming, emphasis mine.

Talent agency Innovative Artists instituted a cost-cutting innovation that had 50 or more assistants and mailroom staff threatening to call in sick on Monday -- because they no longer have health benefits.

In a memo from agency president Scott Harris dated Friday, staffers were informed that their health benefits had been eliminated, retroactive to June 1. In the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Daily Variety, Harris told the staff the decision was made "after much deliberation in the face of the ever-increasing costs of medical premiums." Staffers were told they could continue their coverage through Cobra.

Move does not affect senior or junior agents or administrative staff working under contracts. Several assistants on track to make agent also were excluded. Support staffers were reeling, and agents were unhappy because they risk losing assistants who will have to pay higher premiums to get coverage through Cobra, which is usually retained when a person is between jobs.

One Innovative employee who was affected by the maneuver told Daily Variety that as many as 70 employees lost their health insurance, some with families. They had no warning before the memo arrived. The timing of the move was particularly galling, the source said, because recipients learned they unknowingly had been without insurance for two weeks, and because the bomb was dropped while Harris was on vacation. Assistants who made low wages will be hard-pressed to afford coverage, and the expectation is that some will leave.

I have never even worked at Innovative, and I am appalled. Entertainment assistants and mailroom staff, especially those who work at agencies, are overworked and grossly underpaid as is. Now their medical benefits are being taken away, too? That is some nonsense.

Harris estimated via email that 50 were affected by the move, which he made after evaluating health care costs. "Most Innovative assistants are very young and do not have medical issues (and hence do not get much value from the coverage)," he wrote. Harris said the agency would institute a new pay structure for assistants that would allow them to make more money, which he felt was a higher priority for them.

Let me tell you, I'm "very young," and I get very much value from health insurance. And I'm not even on the molotov cocktail of prescription medications that I know for a fact many of my peers in the industry are on. Drugs are very expensive. So are doctors visits that aren't covered by insurance. Why didn't Harris give them benefits and a new pay structure? Because he wanted to save a few bucks, at the expense of his most expendable, least respected employees.

And Harris delivered his proclamations "via email?" while he was "on vacation"? Where was he?

Harris said he was in Germany to have medical treatment on a knee -- a procedure not covered under his own health plan.

It's nice that Harris can A} take time off from work, B) afford the cost of plane tickets to and accommodations in Germany, and C) find a doctor in a foreign country that can treat his medical afflictions. He better hope his newly-screwed assistant reeeally likes him. I couldn't imagine telling the person that runs my life, "I know I make you work long hours doing menial tasks at a job you are grossly overeducated and overqualified for. And I compensate you poorly for your efforts. So to reward you for all this, I'm eliminating your health insurance. Don't get sick. And don't have any sick kids."

Edit (6/18/2007 3:38pm): Speaking of Defamer, I totally beat them to re-reporting this: Benefit-Reducing Innovative Artists Faces Possible Uninsured Assistant Mutiny. Yeah, I only make an average of one post every other day, as compared to their 10+ posts a day. But I still think it's cool that I scooped them.


Anonymous said...

Hey... I work at Innovative, and I just wanted to say thank you. This whole thing was a HUGE slap in the face - "Hey, thanks for working 10 hours a day at below minimum wage!" We're all incredibly pissed, offended, hurt...

Oh, and right now, we're paid $425/week... already more than $100 less than most agencies.

Bianca Reagan said...

Welcome, anonymous! I'm glad you found my blog. :) But I'm still sad about your news. :( I'd ask you if you have a blog, too, but I wouldn't want to blow your cover.

Aah! I'm so excited! It's like I'm running Defamer.

Oh, and you're welcome for the post. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

cubicalgirl said...

This is effed up on so many levels. I wonder if any of the people Innovative reps will take their business elsewhere? Granted, I don't know much about that whole industry, but it would be great if they repped some big names who found out about this and dropped them for being douchebags who don't take care of their employees. I love how it's assumed people don't have health issues because they're young.

Catherine Avril Morris said...

Fuckers. That really, really sucks. Sorry, anonymous, that that's happening to you and your coworkers.

What are y'all gonna do about it? There's huge strength in numbers, you know. And in taking a stand. At my old job, they used to pay for 100% of our health insurance. Then they changed the policy to where we'd have to pay $70/month out of our paychecks. I made a huge stink, so they gave us all off-schedule raises that were enough to cover the difference. I hope you're all quitting or striking or talking to lawyers or something.

Stephanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bianca Reagan said...

Yay for the comments! No wonder our generation is so disaffected. We supposedly need all these drugs and have no way to pay for them.

stephanie, when I become an important capitalist, I promise not to act like a pig.