By: Leo T. Reed

Last month we sent out a questionnaire to all members covered under the “Black Book” contract – the three-year agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – that is due to expire on July 31, 2010.

We asked you to rate your priorities! It was no surprise that maintaining your pensions and medical benefits was your number one concern. Out of more than 1,033 responses, 961 of you passed over the wage increase box and made benefits your highest priority. The second, to no one’s surprise, was wage increases.

We understand your requests. Medical costs have been going up at an alarming rate. In 1980 health care was under 9 percent of the gross national product. Every year since then it has risen, until today health care consumes 18 percent of our gross national product. In 1980 the average monthly cost of health insurance premiums was around $500. Today it is more than $1,200 per month for a family plan and that is not the Cadillac Plan that we have.

Maintaining the same high level of benefits without members having to pay a part of the premium is our number one priority. We also want to keep deductibles and co-payments to a minimum.

Members, however, have to understand the collective bargaining process. There is not an unlimited amount of money on the table during negotiations, and the union has to establish priorities. Does the money go towards wage increases, medical benefits, pensions, or the host of other considerations listed in the questionnaire? Union negotiators have to make a decision on where the money should go in terms of priorities of the members.

You can help protect your medical benefits by using them wisely. Some cost-saving measures include staying out of the expensive emergency room unless there is no other choice, using generic prescription drugs, and staying within the plan’s network. This may be an appropriate time to urge you to understand your coverage. Knowing what is and what is not covered, can save you a lot of frustration and out-of-pocket expenses.

Remember, we are keeping your priorities in mind! As negotiations begin, my primary goal as the chief negotiator is to insure that there is no premium payments by the members and to minimize the copayments and deductibles for visits, drugs.