We’d like to thank the over 600 Members that joined us earlier this week for our first-ever Digital Townhall as well as our special guests, Teamsters Motion Picture and Theatrical Division Director and President of Teamsters Local 817 in New York, Tom O’Donnell and Teamsters Canada Motion Picture and Theatrical Division Director and Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 155 in Vancouver, Lorrie Ward. Both gave a brief update and shared words of encouragement to our Membership. This show of Solidarity amongst the Teamster Brothers and Sisters is part of our unique Industry and is critically important at this time. As I have said before, we are truly all in this together.
We have spent the last couple of days reviewing the feedback from the survey responses from about 300 Members, as well as following up with those Members that left questions or concerns specific to themselves or their families. Business Agents will continue to follow-up with Members, however if you have a pressing question or issue to address, please make us your first call as Business Agents and Staff are all working normal Business Hours. We want to thank all of our Members that have left thorough notes and feedback from the event, as we will be utilizing Member suggestions and feedback to further develop this digital meeting platform.
For those of you unable to attend the event, below we have shared a recap addressing just some of the topics discussed. We covered a lot of information in our presentation so if you would like more information on a specific topic, we encourage you to reach out to your Business Agent directly.
399 DIGITAL TOWNHALL RECAP:
1. When and how are we safely going back to work? What will the future of work look like?
This was the most commonly asked question leading up to the Local 399 Digital Townhall. Throughout the presentation we shared that unfortunately, there currently is no date we can confidently share with the Membership. We are hopeful that it will be over the course of the summer, perhaps as early as prepping in June or July, however nothing has been confirmed at this time. What was discussed was all of the work happening behind the scenes, discussions around ensuring safety for all Cast and Crew, as well as some of the possible new protocols for conducting business. We also discussed the importance of having Industry standard guidelines that can be followed on every production, no matter how large or small. Studios, Companies and Labor are focused on coming up with the best global solutions. The Guilds, Unions, Studios and Production Companies have a lot at stake here in terms of finding the right solutions so that we can go back to work and keep everyone safe. The truth of the matter is, our Industry will look different when we return. Things like masks, gloves, cleanliness, wash stations, separation when possible, oversight, safety monitors, the most up-to-date testing, etc, these are all the types of discussions we are having for each and every classification. The first step in this process is getting basic guidelines from the City, County and State that will allow us to begin working again. We have many meetings coming up with the County Public Health Department and the CEO of the City and County of LA to determine those safety regulations. When, what, where, how-are all conjecture at the moment. We know everyone wants to go back to work but no one is willing to do so without detailed safety precautions in place.
To reiterate the point shared during the Digital Townhall however, we will be doing all within our power to ensure that our Members and our Members jobs are protected to the best of our ability. We understand Members concerns as we navigate an uncertain future. Rest assured that we are doing all we can to help our Members return to work as soon and as safely as possible. We’ll be fighting and advocating along with our Membership every step of the way until we get there. We will be meeting with each of our Steering Committees to get feedback from our Members regarding their suggestions and concerns about returning to work. We will host more frequent digital Meetings in order to outline what going back to work looks like as new information becomes available. We appreciate all of you that submitted ideas through the registration form and all of that information has been shared with the Business Agents to review in their safety Meetings. Please reach out to your Business Agent directly should you want to discuss anything further.
We discussed that when Members return to work, the Employers are the ones responsible to provide PPE for Members and a safe working environment. That said, many Members have requested Local 399 Masks to not only protect themselves, but also to demonstrate Teamster solidarity. The Local 399 Executive Board has approved the expenditure for Local 399 Masks and Local 399 Hand Sanitizer to be distributed to the Membership. The goal is to have PPE on hand that Business Agents are able to pass out to Members when they return to work. We are allotting (1) free mask and one bottle of hand sanitizer to each Member. Any larger requests for masks or sanitizer will be available for purchase at the Local. In the coming weeks we will be sharing how we plan to safely distribute the masks and sanitizer currently on hand.
3. MPI Eligibility Extension:
Local 399 President Kenny Farnell reported on the recent MPI Eligibility Extension to help Members maintain their health benefits during this time. As a reminder, the Board of Directors of the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan (MPIHP) have voted to grant hours to participants who were hardest hit by the COVID-19 production shutdown and were going to lose eligibility for health benefits in April. This applies to participants in the Qualifying Period (Work Period) of October 27, 2019 through April 25, 2020 for the eligibility period of July 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. At this time, this extension applies only to Active Participants who are currently enrolled in MPIHP and whose benefit period ends on June 30, 2020 (this is for the qualifying period that ends on April 25, 2020). Active Participants in this group must have at least 100 or more total hours (worked, banked or combined) during the qualifying period of October 27, 2019 through April 25, 2020. If you are in this group and have met the minimum number of hours, you will receive a credit of up to 300 hours to ensure eligibility continues in MPIHP for the benefit period of July 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020.
Who is not eligible for the COVID-19 special eligibility extension?
This extension does not apply to the following people:
- Participants who currently are on COBRA are not eligible for the COVID-19 hours extension.
- Participants who currently are on disability are not eligible for the COVID-19 hours extension.
- Participants who are not in the qualifying period of October 27, 2019 through April 25, 2020.
- Participants who are already eligible on July 1, 2020 due to having enough hours.
- Participants who are currently not eligible in MPIHP.
If you have any questions about this program please first make sure you have an online profile with www.mpiphp.org so that you can check your eligibility and hours. Local 399 President and Business Agent Kenny Farnell can be contacted for questions at; email@example.com.
4. MPI: Health of the Plans:
Business Agent Joshua Staheli, who serves as a Trustee on the Finance Committee, reported on the health of the Motion Picture Health and Pension plans. He shared that based on the most recent numbers, the plans are down but weathering the storm better than the overall markets. The reasoning for this is that The Plans are diversified in way that was stress tested a couple of years ago to protect against the downside. Fortunately, we entered the current crisis well-funded with months of reserves in both the Active and Retiree health plans. As of end of March, our losses were in the low teens compared to the US equity market which was down about 20%.
We received many questions about how the current crisis would affect the pension and IAP. What is currently shown on your pension benefit statement won’t be affected. There are a lot of variables as to where the reserves will be in January 2021. It depends on the number of hours flowing into the plans and the residual contributions by the Employers paying into the plans. The good news is that they continue to make those contributions. It also depends on things like how quickly we come back to work and any additional benefits given the participants like the waiving of premiums and 400 hour requirements for eligibility. We are cautiously optimistic that we will still have more than 8 months of reserves come January 2021 and we will be able to get the 10% increase to the pension for active participants and the 13th and 14th checks for our Retirees who retired prior to August, 2009.
Unless there is a major turnaround in the market we would expect the IAP to be down for the year 2020, but again it should weather the storm better than a standard 60 / 40 plan and substantially better than US Equities as whole.
5. MPI IAP Hardship Withdrawal Program:
Business Agent Joshua Staheli also discussed the MPI Hardship Withdrawal Program on Members’ retirement accounts, whether it’s your Motion Picture Plan IAP or a 401k. When Congress passed the CARES ACT, they temporally removed the penalty for early withdrawal on your retirement accounts. The Local is advising against taking Hardship withdrawals unless absolutely necessary. We want to encourage all members to talk to their creditors and see if they can get a deferment of payments until the COVID-19 crisis is over before withdrawing from their retirement accounts.
Participants in MPI can take up to 20% of their IAP’s 2018 balance, not to exceed $20k before taxes. MPI will withhold taxes for you above and beyond the amount requested if you would like them to. You can choose to pay back the amount you withdraw from your IAP if you want or you can choose not to pay it back.
Josh explained there are several reasons why the Local believes it’s a bad idea to withdraw from your retirement:
1. If you are planning on paying it back and you believe the economy will be better in 3 years than it is now, you are essentially selling low and buying high.
2. The money you take out now will not get the growth of the next 3 years.
3. If you don’t pay it back, you will have to pay taxes on it as income. You will have 3 years to put the money back in or pay the taxes.
The application window for the MPI IAP Hardship Withdrawal Program begins TODAY, May 1st running through the end of July, 2020. In order to apply you must have an online account at www.mpiphp.org.
Anyone that wants to take advantage of the Hardship Withdrawal Program needs to first make sure they have their online account set up at www.mpiphp.org. If you have any questions about this program, please contact Business Agent Joshua Staheli at: Jstaheli@ht399.org.
6. MPTF Fund:
Secretary-Treasurer Steve Dayan shared that the Local 399 Executive Board has approved the ability for Local 399 Members in good-standing to vote on an allocation of up to $500,000 for a recovery fund to support Members of Local 399 who have been impacted by the recent shutdown in production related to the COVID-19 virus. This Fund would be administered by MPTF. The decision by the Executive Board will be put before Local 399 Members in good-standing for an electronic voting process beginning on May 11th – May 14th. Only Members in good-standing will be eligible to vote on this recovery fund, however the eligibility for the fund will extend to all Members who were Members in good-standing as of January 1, 2020. Members who wish to apply for the recovery fund, should it be approved by the Membership, will have the ability to apply on June 1, 2020. Given that the aim of the fund is to help those with the greatest need, once status eligibility is established, an MPTF social worker will work with Members to demonstrate their need for financial assistance.
Full details of this fund will be shared next week so that Members in good-standing are prepared to vote the following week. If you have any immediate questions regarding this fund, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vice President and Political Director Ed Duffy discussed EDD at great lengths during the Local 399 Digital Townhall. We have received the EDD Webinar Notes from the Entertainment Specific EDD Webinar on April 14th and are happy to share this as a resource for those with questions.
Below is a great chart to help outline the CA UI Benefits available at this time.
The application process for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, providing assistance for unemployed or partially unemployed individuals who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance and who are unable or unavailable to work due to COVID-19 related circumstances, was also discussed as this opened for applications on Tuesday, April 28th. Click here to access the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program page.
We understand many Members are frustrated with the process of applying for EDD and the delay in getting the necessary funds to support their families. It was reported during the Digital Townhall that last Monday the EDD call center is now open from 8 AM to 8 PM with a much bigger team to respond to basic questions in the issues. EDD also announced last Thursday that the State made the decision that once you are in the program and getting your benefits they will just continue giving you those benefits every two weeks without having to to do another claim report until you go back to work. This was done to allow the EDD to focus on the new claims that haven’t been addressed and deal with the problems many of you are having. If there is anything we can do to support you in this process, please reach out to Business Agent Ed Duffy: email@example.com.
8. CARES Act & Next Steps:
Local 399 Political Director Ed Duffy also discussed the work being done in conjunction with our Entertainment Union Coalition and other Entertainment Industry Unions and Guilds to ensure our Members were included in any Federal Stimulus Packages. He reported that many of our local Representatives in Congress and others across the country stepped up to make sure our sector wasn’t left out. Many of you should already be receiving the additional $600 payment to your traditional UI checks which came out of the first Federal Stimulus ‘CARES’ Act, among many other elements.
Ed also reported that the next stimulus bill which is covering small business relief and loans was voted on last week and hopefully will be helpful to our vendors and all of those that seemed to be missed in the last bill. In regards to future stimulus bills, other aspects that are being lobbied to be included are:
- Extending the Pandemic relief to the end of 2020, right now the extra 600.00 expires on July 31st.
- Allowing multi-employer Pension Plans some leeway in recovery.
- Federal relief and subsidizing COBRA costs for one year and extending that coverage to 36 months.
At this time we have no concrete idea of how long this gradual return to production will take so we want to have some assurance that our Members and all workers are protected through at least the end of the year, just in case. We will be sharing any updates to any new Federal Stimulus packages on our Local 399 Channels of communication.
9. CDL / MEC Card / Skills Training:
Business Agent Chris Sell recapped information that has been shared with our Local 399 CDL Drivers over the past weeks as it pertains to CDL, MEC Card and CSATF Classes. You can review the most recent updates here.
Chris also reported that the voluntary Local 399 provided Skills Training Classes with CSATF will be suspended as of now. Any and all required CSATF online classes must still be taken during this time in order to avoid any issues with your time being tolled. If you have any questions about this information please contact Business Agent Chris Sell at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. Union Dues:
Local 399 Members were reminded of the COVID-19 Emergency Dues Policy put forth by our Local 399 Executive Board. Our Front Office Staff has been working to help assist Members in processing their requests to continue to pay dues or take a Withdrawal Card. If you have any questions about your account, please contact the Union Hall Front Office: 818-985-7374.
11. Upcoming Events:
During the Local 399 Digital Townhall it was announced that we are looking to organize a Food Distribution Event with the Hollywood Basic Crafts in conjunction with Labor Community Services, the Los Angeles Federation of Labor and the LA Regional Food Bank. Stay tuned for more information about collecting food or if you are interested in volunteering.
Thanks again for the feedback from our Members regarding the format for this Local 399 Meeting. We will be looking to hold more regular Digital Meetings in the coming weeks, tackling more issues and updating information as it becomes available. We are currently working with all of our Local 399 Steering Committees to conduct smaller meetings to provide more targeted feedback to take back to the General Membership during our next digital meeting.
Thank you again to all Members in attendance!
We hope you will all join us at the next digital meeting. Stay tuned for more details.