Actors yell cut on proposed tax on expensive health insurance plans (updated)
The generally cozy relationship between Hollywood's unions and the Obama administration is coming under strain.
The source of friction: President Obama's support for a so-called Cadillac tax that is part of the healthcare bill passed by the Senate. The tax, intended to help finance a revamp of the nation's healthcare system, would apply to the most expensive health insurance plans.
As the Los Angeles Times reported today, in a meeting Monday with Obama, union leaders including James P. Hoffa of the Teamsters and Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO complained that the tax would harm their members, who often are covered under expensive insurance plans.
Playing a supporting role in the effort is the industry's second-largest actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. In a letter last week to Obama and senior congressional leaders, AFTRA President Roberta Reardon and the union's national executive director, Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, warned that the proposed tax would "hurt middle-class and low-wage working union members that have negotiated over the years for health benefits at the expense of higher wages to keep pace with the high cost of healthcare."
Today, Christine Dubois, CEO of the AFTRA Health Fund, chimed in with a similar letter to Obama and others in the Democratic leadership. "The Health Fund welcomes the efforts of this Administration and Congress to deliver healthcare reform and expand access to the nation's health system. However, the health reform bill recently passed by the Senate would penalize funds, like ours, that for decades have reliable provided working Americans with access to healthcare."
AFTRA's health plan has about 17,000 participants, who include actors, broadcasters and other performers. The larger Screen Actors Guild is studying the issue and is expected to take a similar position as its sister union.
Update (Jan. 13, 3:00 p.m.): The campaign to oppose the proposed tax on so-called "Cadillac" health care plans gained more momentum in Hollywood today. In a blistering open letter to members of Congress, Matthew Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents Hollywood's technical workers, said the union's executive board was firmly opposed to "any legislation that imposes any tax on hard fought benefits." Calling the measure a "travesty," Loeb added "that the unions, the true champions of workers and the prime vehicle to move America's health care agenda, could end up worse off than we were before is unacceptable." Similar objections were raised by the Screen Actors Guild, whose leaders sent letters to members of Congress asking them "not to pass health care reform legislation that will place a tax burden on the health plans of the members of SAG."
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: President Obama. Credit: Jewell Samad/AFP/Getty Images.