Sam Petrov has worked on sets as a digital imaging technician for the last two and a half years. In that time, he’s gotten fairly adept at keeping track of his hours, and making sure he maintains his benefits through the Motion Picture Industry health plan.
To qualify, workers must clock 400 hours of work in a six-month period. In early March, Petrov knew he was a few hours shy, with a deadline coming on March 21. He took a job working overnights on a low-budget feature called “A Lot of Nothing.”
Halfway into the shoot, production shut down across the industry. Suddenly, Petrov found himself caught short.
“I was on track,” he says. “I had that many hours booked to work.”
The Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plans offer a pretty good deal for members who qualify. The employee pays no premium for individual coverage, and the premium is capped at $50 a month for family coverage. But if the employee loses eligibility, then they are faced with paying for COBRA or seeking individual coverage on the insurance exchange.
“We’re either paying nothing or a lot,” says Greg Endries, a still photographer who is a member of the International Cinematographers Guild.
The MPIPHP board has taken steps to address the production shutdown. On April 10, the board announced that it would extend credit for up to 300 hours for workers whose eligibility period was set to lapse on April 25. But that did not help workers whose deadline was March 21.
“They didn’t feel the March qualifying period was impacted. I would say that’s false,” says Dave Baron, a first assistant cameraman. “By March 13, every show had pretty much decided to shut down.”
Baron says he was about five days short when work was suspended. For those workers who did not have enough hours on March 21, their insurance will be cut off on June 1.
According to Lori Brogin, the MPIPHP communications director, about 20-25 workers are in this situation.
“MPI staff and the Board of Directors continue to review options to minimize benefit disruptions to the extent possible,” Brogin said via email. “We are keenly sensitive to the importance of this issue and will notify all Participants as quickly as possible of any further actions taken by the Board of Directors.”
Baron, who has been organizing workers on this issue on Facebook, said that members were told to file individual appeals. The appeal hearing was originally set for May 25 — or a few days before the insurance would lapse — but has since been moved up to earlier in the month.