Out of Network

The health issues behind the ABC lockout

Bob Smith, a studio field engineer who has diabetes, is also making dire predictions about the new health plan. Smith (who videotapes people entering the building, asking them to "show us your big scab smile") says he thinks the new Disney health plan will cost him more than $100 a month, while his current coverage costs him $20 a month. And technical director Michael Karman says he heard about someone who was reimbursed only $750 for a $7000 surgery under the new plan. "What is this plan?" asks Karman. "We want to see it in black and white."

Labor experts are keeping watch on NABET's health benefits dilemma, which some think may mark the beginning of another round of health struggles in the labor movement. While similar coverage disputes heated up when health costs were spiraling upward in the early '90s, they have largely faded into the background of union issues since managed care brought health costs down. But health costs are beginning to rise again lately. And labor leaders fear workers will bear the burden of additional costs.

Unfortunately, the meaty health care questions raised by the strike have now largely been lost within an unpredictable drama of technical rulings on labor practices. NABET has asked the National Labor Relations Board to evaluate its initial claim— that ABC's withholding of information was an unfair labor practice. If the NLRB agrees, which could happen in days or weeks, then the strike would have been legal— and ABC's lockout illegal. Still, it's unclear how the board's decision will change the situation. Even if the NLRB comes down on the union's side, the decision will have no actual impact on the matter of health benefits. And if the board rules in ABC's favor, workers could be out on the line indefinitely.

Broadcast blues: technical workers on the West 66th Street picket line
Hiroyuki Ito
Broadcast blues: technical workers on the West 66th Street picket line

In the meantime, NABET leadership is hoping the prospect of missed soap operas will rouse the public's sympathy for the workers. Last week, the union issued a press release that alerts viewers that the special Thanksgiving day episodes of General Hospital and other daytime shows will be replaced— with reruns! As NABET spokesperson Tom Donahue put it, "Viewers will get a turkey of a deal."


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