Writers Union Hit by Insurance ‘Scam’

Tasini on a Tightrope

"Do I feel that they dropped the ball? Absolutely," says a freelancer who asked to remain anonymous. Many union members are trade journalists who care more about valid health insurance than about suing the Times, says this source. Members should have been put on notice earlier, and Tasini should have been more forthcoming. As legal actions were unfolding, says the source, his e-mails "remained ambiguous. He didn't communicate that this was a scam."

Critics complain that Tasini's November 26 update failed to mention that Employers Mutual is currently under civil and criminal investigation in California, where the head of the company, James Graf, had already received cease-and-desist orders connected to two other companies he set up. They also want to know why the national union waited until December 18 to advise members to seek coverage somewhere else.

Randy Dotinga, a San Diego-based freelance writer, finds it ironic that the evidence about Employers Mutual was publicly available long before the union wised up. "In a way, we're all to blame," says Dotinga. "We're an organization of journalists, and we all got snookered by a fraudulent company that we didn't investigate." Nevertheless, Dotinga says, "I'd like to see an investigation into how this happened and how we can avoid having it happen again."

"Have we learned something from this?" Asks Tasini. "Yes. You have to be more cautious." He's likely to be more forthcoming on January 12, when he's scheduled to meet with his Chicago chapter, and on January 18, when the NWU National Executive Board meets in Los Angeles. Angry members are calling for an internal investigation. But for some of them, the answers are emerging a day late—and a dollar short.

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