Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Health Care's the Cure that Ails Us

I'm a big fan of the Freakonomics blog. They recently announced the winner of their new 6 word slogan for the US contest. The winner was: Consumption's the Cure that Ails Us.

Today, I learned from two of my stagehand buddies that health care is the cure that's going to break the back of the unions. One of those buddies you probably heard of. He's the stagehand who "surfed" the collapsing scaffolding at the Academy Awards a few years ago, breaking his back in the process. He was a rigger, made good money, and is now disabled, but he stays in touch with old friends from backstage. Here's what he told me:

[...] health care has a annual low limit....weekly, a person has to make $830/week to qualify for health insurance....[a friend] worked for Port Charles props nighttime turnaround...averaged 40 hour weeks. in 2000, she made $600/week for a 40 hr week. with the raises per year to now.....nighttime turnaround at GH probably makes over $700/week...not enough to make health insurance.....there are many uninsured members in the 2 and 3 groups [this union has 5 senority "groups"].

Health care is killing unions. Every inch of negotiating room is eaten alive by the health insurance monster. My other friend from the IATSE sent me a story from today's LA Times, Conflict erupts inside theatrical stage employees union:

Leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, whose members include 35,000 who work behind the scenes on film and television sets, are facing a high level of dissent from the rank and file over a contract that includes modest pay increases but also deep cuts in the union's coveted health and pension benefits.

There's more than one way to battle the health care monster. Cutting coverage for those covered is one way. Another is to put heafty qualifications on qualifying, like requiring substantial over time hours or even a second call (daily hire job) on your days off. Here we have yet another American Union, the battlers for the 40 hour week, and worker protection, essentially bowing to corporate demands that workers only deserve health care and pensions if they work more than 40 hours per week. From the LA Times again:

Under the proposed three-year contract, members would be required to work 400 hours every six months, up from the current 300 hours, to keep their benefits.

That's the movie locals requirement, and at least it's less than 40 hours per week average. My old local, 33, is in even worse shape, and has been forced to institute coverage that only covers those who make the most money. Younger members, who often work in lower paying television jobs, don't even make enough to qualify when they work full time.

Eugene Debs would be appalled.

Unions are going to be forced to cut back on pensions, 401ks, increased hourly wages, and better working conditions (meal penalties, continuous tour, golden time, etc) in order to feed the health care monster, and the Wall Street Monster that Ate the Pensions. These Unions (not all IATSE) already hamper themselves by sending stagehands in $200 suits in to negotiate with lawyers in $5000 suites. Now they have the other arm tied behind their back with capitalist, robber baron, Republican tactics to drain power away from what they see as communist union thugs robbing them of their next BMW.

As much as I hate to say it, I don't see any light on the cyc, so to speak. Things are going to get much worse, and who knows if we'll ever recover. And now our new progressive government is going to tinker around the edges while the solution, single payer universal non-profit health care, stands screaming from the sidelines, while we all talk about Rush Fucking Limbaugh.

The only slight glow coming from the dimmer racks on this one is that, in the kollapsnik world, guys with calluses and working knowledge of mechanical systems will be the new kings, wearing $200 overalls.

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