Innovative cuts health benefits

Move does not affect senior, junior agents

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.

Innovative is best known for repping voiceover, commercial and below-the-line clients, along with young talent.

The morale-buster comes as Innovative weathers the usual problem encountered by boutiques that discover talent and struggle to hang on when bigger agencies notice. Innovative agent Louise Ward just jumped to the William Morris Agency, and up-and-coming actor Channing Tatum has said he plans to follow her. “Collateral” scribe Stuart Beattie previously left Innovative to go to CAA.

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.

“We have a quality support team at Innovative that I value, and it is my belief that for the vast majority, the pay increase that they will be receiving in the future will be far more appreciated than continuing to participate on the current medical plan,” Harris wrote.

Harris said he was in Germany to have medical treatment on a knee — a procedure not covered under his own health plan. He confirmed the benefit cutback is retroactive to June 1 but wrote that “none of my employees will face any out-of-pocket costs if in fact they went to the doctor in June.”

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