The Price of Working Non-Union – Health Insurance



If you worked on Hotel Transylvania or are working on Cloudy 2 at Sony Pictures Animation, you are receiving excellent health and pension coverage. If you’re a show hire working at Imageworks on the same films, and working in the same building, you’re receiving no benefits beyond a basic HMO that costs you $250+ a month. Imageworks is a unique case in the movement to extend benefits to all people working in vfx. We’re the only fx house owned by a studio (Edit: Disney owns ILM now). With the success of Cloudy and Hotel T, we are a full-fledged animation studio as well. We are in the same category as  Dreamworks, Disney, and Pixar. Almost all of our work is coming from Columbia or internally generated from SPA. Hotel T has crossed the $125 million mark domestically, making it only second to Smurfs as the most successful project we have ever made. It’s got a fighting chance at eclipsing Smurfs as well, and overseas revenue is not even in yet.

Above are some charts we put together graphing out the costs of the Sony health insurance plans, vs. the Motion Picture Industry plans that SPA works under. The price we pay is startling in comparison; even more so when compared to COBRA costs that SPA employees can avoid thanks to the extended coverage after leaving a studio that comes with MPI’s Health Plan.

The current system of poor benefits for show hires is quite simply, bullshit. There can be equal benefits, and it isn’t difficult to achieve. Working 10 feet down the hall of the North building doesn’t have to be the dividing line for decent health insurance.  Long-term Imageworks employees, project hires, and SPA employees all contributed to the success of Hotel Transylvania.  We’ll all be contributing to the success of Cloudy 2, Smurfs 2, Smurfs 3, Popeye, etc. But we earn three different tiers of benefits.

The perpetual extension/perma-lancing system that intentionally screws employees out of retirement benefits needs to come to an end. The company is hiring people for just shy of 6 months, and then “extending” them beyond  the 6 month threshold for benefits.  They do this over and over for each show the artist is picked up on.  There are artists that have been working here for years, and have been given no options for retirement benefits whatsoever. In addition they are subject to the Delta DMO, quite possibly the worst dental plan any of us have ever encountered. This is in addition to earning no vacation or sick days.

The “I’ve got mine, screw the other guy” attitude is killing this industry. Imageworks, We are the feature animation studio in Los Angeles that earns the worst benefits of all of our competitors, and has made the most successful animated film this summer. Does that make sense? Sign a Representation Card and let’s start all being treated equally.

Edit: October 31, 2012 – Re-generated charts with higher 2013 health insurance rates

7 Responses to The Price of Working Non-Union – Health Insurance

  1. Anonymous says:

    You might want to recheck some of your numbers.

    Click to access 2013CostofCoverage.pdf

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s good to see these side-by-side comparisons. The main problem I see, though, is this is just one part of the total pay package. To make a useful comparison I think you’d have to include the full package of salary plus benefits.

    If the average Imageworks employee makes $5-$10/hour more than a SPA employee then that would make up for all the union benefits, I would guess. The difference in yearly cost of the employee only HMO health insurance breaks down to about $0.69/hour.

    • Clicking Bandit says:

      Would also be nice to see their coverage. I wasn’t very happy with the HMO coverage. If I make 5 more an hour (if this is true…) and get in an accident and hospital bills run me thousands of dollars into debt…

      Ha-rump. :/

      Also, pension plans, and portability of health care is something people should keep in mind.

      • 839spi says:

        Yeah, not sure where that higher wage number comes from. The MPI insurance coverage info is available on the links above. We’re working on a similar chart for retirement benefits. It’s an easy calculation for project hires: $0.00 . It’ll take a few weeks to get all the other numbers together though.

    • 839spi says:

      No one really knows what the average SPA vs. SPI employee makes. We know the averages from the wage survey the union does, but the artists are always at a negotiating disadvantage without that information. The company knows to the penny what those numbers are, but is obviously not going to divulge that. Even if an employee did make a higher hourly wage, it wouldn’t matter when you get layed off. If you’re unemployed you keep your health beenfits under the union plan for months afterwards. We also don’t know the true cost the company pays per employee for health insurance and benefits. The listed figures are for the employee portion of the plan that we pay out of pocket, and doesn’t reflect the portion the company subsidizes.

  3. Scott Ross says:

    I have no horse in this race.

    I do not own a VFX facility, I am not a VFX supervisor worried about pissing off clients and being blackballed. I am not (as much as I have tried) a movie producer. I am not a studio executive (thank god). I am not a VES member. I belong to no Union.

    I am an individual that has spent the better part of my entire life managing large VFX companies. Contrary to what some might say, I do understand the current situation. In fact, given my unique position I believe that I see the situation very clearly. Given my actions, I believe that the rank and file see that I do.

    I implore you…. do not have a walk out. Not yet. Let a committee be formed to come up with a strategic plan.

    The passion is there. The problems are evident. The storm is brewing.

    But…. let’s make sure that we do not act out of pure passion. Let’s be strategic.

    Let’s win the war….. not the battle.

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