New York – Actors' Equity Association, the national labor union representing professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, released the following statement regarding Equity-League's new health plan for Equity members which will raise the number of weeks members need to work to earn union health insurance. 

“Recently, Council became aware that the health fund was preparing to announce plan changes. The more we learned, the more concerned we became that not enough work had been done by the health fund to determine how these changes would impact our members. That is why Council passed a resolution directing the union’s trustees to withdraw support from plan changes and delay the announcement that was made today until a demographic study was done,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association. “I am deeply frustrated that today’s announcement was made against the wishes of the Council and that no study has been returned to Council about how these changes might impact our members who face hiring bias. We all understand that there is no escaping the devastating loss of months of employer contributions nationwide, and no alternative aside from making adjustments to the plan. But I believe that the fund had both the obligation and the financial reserves to take the time to make better choices.”

Equity members' health insurance is tied to how many weeks out of the year they work on contract. Currently, members who work 11 weeks qualify for six months of coverage, and 19 weeks earns 1 year of coverage.

The health fund is a separate organization jointly managed by union trustees and employer trustees. In anticipation of a new plan, Equity’s Council instructed its trustees to withdraw support for the proposed health plan until further examination, particularly into its effects on: 

  • potential harm and remedies for BIPOC participants 
  • potential harm and remedies for pregnant participants  
  • impact on participants living outside New York, Chicago and Los Angeles

Since Equity-League did not return a study to Council before the plan changes were announced, the union cannot support the changes which, among other issues, raises the number of weeks members will need to work to qualify for union insurance.

While Equity members have largely been without work weeks that would allow them to qualify for union coverage, the union has been fighting for increased access to affordable health insurance. In April, Equity called for a COBRA subsidy as unemployment began to skyrocket in the arts and entertainment sector. 

In May the House passed the HEROES Act, which includes a 100% COBRA subsidy for displaced workers. The language is modeled after similar efforts during the 2008 financial crisis, when the federal government offered COBRA subsidies to workers who were laid off through no fault of their own. Also in May, Equity called for the U.S. Senate to pass a COBRA subsidy without delay. Since then, over 4,900 Equity members and supporters have signed a petition calling for the subsidy. Thousands more have signed a petition supporting the HEROES Act. 

As lost work for Equity members stretches on, more lose access to their insurance each month. COBRA allows them to maintain their union health insurance, and a subsidy waives cost-prohibitive fees to do so. 

ACTORS' EQUITY ASSOCIATION, founded in 1913, is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Equity endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits (health and pension included). Member: AFL-CIO, FIA.  #EquityWorks

October 1, 2020