Dressers in Wardrobe Union Fear Loss of Health Insurance Due to Strike

News   Dressers in Wardrobe Union Fear Loss of Health Insurance Due to Strike
Like those in their sister unions who have been impacted by the stagehands strike, Broadway dressers, stitchers, launderers and others of Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 764 are not immune to feeling anxious.

In a scenario echoed from union to union, wardrobe people are nervously counting up their work weeks and salaries to see if lost work since the strike's Nov. 10 start will prevent them from making the minimum work weeks or salary required to give them an essential benefit — health insurance.

Emergency strike pay of $400 a week began Nov. 15 (as it did for other union folk, like those in Actors' Equity), but members of Local 764 told Playbill.com some wardrobe people in the 1,000-person union are at great risk of losing their insurance — and insurance for their spouses and kids — in 2008.

"I know people who may not make minimum [due to the strike]," said one Local 764 I.A.T.S.E. member, who asked not to be named.

Rules prevent members from paying directly into health insurance. They must work to be insured.

Members said the wardrobe union leadership told them there might be some employment opportunities in other areas that could fill in the work gaps — so members could reach toward making minimum for insurance. However, members have been worrying about a worst-case scenario: a strike that continues for many weeks. Day work or pick-up work won't be able to solve the lost weeks in that case, members say.

"I know some people are upset now, but if it lasts, there will be a bloodbath," one member said.

If the strike is protracted, members say they expect many stories of dressers and others desperately scrambling to raise thousands of dollars to pay for their own (or their families') insurance, through COBRA, the law which allows the formerly insured to pay for the continuation of lapsed insurance due to job loss.

According to Local One documents, in order to have coverage for yourself and one eligible dependent in 2008, a wardrobe worker must earn $40,000 in covered employment in 2007. In order to have family coverage in 2008, you must earn $55,000 in covered employment in 2007.

In theory, a wardrobe person may end up being covered but face the grim fact that their kids are not, a union member told Playbill.com.

"I thank my lucky stars I am working on this show," said one wardrobe person working in a still-running Broadway show. She said some who have made their minimum and are working in running shows have been known in recent days to give up a portion of their hours to strike-stricken wardrobe people.

The outside work options for stranded wardrobe people are further reduced at the moment due to the current Writers Guild strike, affecting TV and movie work; filming has shut down.

At the time of the Broadway strike, there were about 400 wardrobe people working on Broadway, including those who continued working the eight Broadway shows that were not affected by the strike.

The strike is also hurting wardrobe workers of the eight currently running Broadway shows — Mauritius, Xanadu, Pygmalion, The Ritz, Cymbeline, …Spelling Bee, Young Frankenstein and Mary Poppins. Some workers' regular income on those shows was often supplemented by day work on other shows. Unlike actors, wardrobe people can cross over into others shows.

Unlike other unions, there is no Local 764 Strike Fund, but it's getting support from its parent, I.A.T.S.E., so the unemployment-level weekly strike pay of $400/week is not necessarily in danger.

In seven weeks, traditional unemployment will kick in if the strike lasts that long.

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