One of the Largest Hollywood Payroll Companies, over State Disability and Unemployment Insurance

When a third member of Studio Transportation Drivers, Local Union No. 399 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters had his state disability benefits cut because Cast & Crew had failed to withhold premiums from his pay while he was working at a distant location, Local 399 Secretary-Treasurer Leo T. Reed had enough. Even though Local 399 had assisted its first two members in their successful appeals from their reductions in benefits, Cast & Crew flatly refused to change its practices to conform to those of every other payroll company in Hollywood.

Specifically, unlike every other Hollywood payroll company, Cast & Crew continues to take the position that a California resident who is hired in California by a California studio or other production company to work out of state, does not have enough “contact” with California to require the withholding of state disability insurance premiums (“SDI”) or the payment of California Unemployment Insurance. SDI premiums are relatively small and employees don’t even notice that it isn’t being deducted, or are unaware of the consequences until they apply for benefits. Then, the California Employment Development Department (“EDD”), the California agency that administers SDI and unemployment insurance, informs the employee that he or she didn’t have enough earnings to qualify for full benefits.

“This is hurting my members,” said Local 399 Secretary-Treasurer Reed. “I understand that Cast & Crew or its clients can save a few bucks on unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance if the worker is considered unconnected to California; but it’s not fair to the employees,” added Reed. With foreign states paying bigger and bigger incentives to lure production out of California, more and more California drivers and other craft employees are having to accept work out-of-­state in order to pay their bills.

Because Local 399 probably lacked standing to sue Cast & Crew over its SDI policy, Secretary-Treasurer Reed asked Local 399’s third member denied full benefits, Frank Mejerski, to act as a plaintiff suing on behalf of all other similarly situated employees, with Local 399 picking up all of the costs. “Of course,” answered Mr. Mejerski, “anything to help the brothers.”

Mr. Mejerski had worked on Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which was shot mainly in Hawaii during 2010 and was released earlier this year. Although Mr. Mejerski was hired in California to drive a California truck for a California production company, Cast & Crew did not deduct SDI from $40,260.48 in wages he earned while driving a California truck in Hawaii. As a result, when Mr. Mejerski injured his back in March of 2011, he learned that his weekly benefits were being cut by approximately $414.

Mejerski’s complaint, which was filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that Cast & Crew and its various subsidiaries have violated California’s Business & Professions Code by engaging in the unlawful business practice of violating various provisions of the California Unemployment Insurance Code relating to SDI and unemployment insurance. The complaint seeks injunctive relief ordering Cast & Crew to make the required SDI and unemployment premium payments going back four years and to cease violating these provisions of the California Unemployment Insurance Code. The complaint also seeks to hold Cast & Crew’s clients, presumably major studios and independent producers identified in the complaint only as Does 11 through 100, jointly and severally liable for the violations because they were the employees’ true employers.