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With Hollywood’s strikes stretching into their fifth month, nearly 3,000 Hollywood workers have pulled a combined $44.6 million from their reserves in the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan to make ends meet, according to three individuals with knowledge.
According to the data obtained by TheWrap, The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans (often referred to as MPI) hardship withdrawal program received 1,449 applications in its first day and a total of 2,953 by Sept. 7, a number that insiders say is nearly double what was seen during the pandemic. On average, the withdrawal requests asked for $15,000 to be taken from the pension plan, with the total amount of funds requested through Sept. 7 totaling $44.6 million.
On Sept. 1, the MPI opened up applications for the hardship withdrawal program allowing members who joined prior to this year to pull up to $20,000 from their retirement account to cover basic expenses. The program is similar to one that the MPI established during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The MPI funds are paid into primarily through studio contributions as part of the collective bargaining agreements between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the entertainment industry’s various unions. It’s the primary healthcare and retirement plan provider for members of the below-the-line workers union IATSE, as well as Teamsters Local 399 and the Basic Crafts.
“People are mortgaging their future to pay their bills today,” one of the insiders said. “The idea was that the industry created these retirement plans so folks in a difficult and physically demanding industry can retire with dignity and security. Now, the industry is forcing them to sacrifice that dignity and security to pay their bills today.”
Some top names in Hollywood have stepped up to help. Veteran TV producers Ryan Murphy and Greg Berlanti have each created $500,000 funds to aid people who have worked on their respective productions. Berlanti gave another $300,000 to strike funds. Additionally, filmmaker Paul Feig donated $100,000 to the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Community Care Fund.
The overwhelming demand facing the MPI echoes that of other strike support programs that have been set up this summer. Last month, Motion Picture and Television Fund president/CEO Bob Beitcher released an open letter pleading for further donations as his organization was receiving “over 500-1,000 calls a week” for financial assistance, with an estimated 80% coming from production crew workers.
“Members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have been very generous in stepping up to support their own members, but as a community we are not doing enough to support the tens of thousands of crew members and others who live paycheck to paycheck and depend on this industry for their livelihood,” Beitcher wrote.
As TheWrap reported earlier this month, IATSE and its locals have been hard at work collaborating with the MPTF and other organizations to provide strike support for its out-of-work members.
The union has hosted several food drives to provide free groceries and has established Zoom meetings to spread awareness of resources for financial aid and mental health support. Some locals, such as lighting technician union IATSE 728, have even established their own strike fund specifically for their members.
But even these round-the-clock efforts are being overwhelmed by the sheer number of working-class Hollywood crew members in need, and that could play a factor as IATSE prepares for its own round of bargaining agreement talks with Hollywood studios in 2024.
IATSE members and local leaders who spoke with TheWrap say they are concerned that the current strikes are erasing below-the-line workers’ ability to financially withstand another strike if negotiations fail to produce a deal and IATSE feels it is necessary to hold one. IATSE has never called a film and television strike in its history, though came close in 2021 before an eleventh-hour deal was ratified by members by the narrowest of margins.
“It could well be a studio tactic to draw this out so that members can’t afford their lifestyles or to afford basic needs,” costume supervisor and IATSE 705 member Sarah Basta told TheWrap last month. “For IATSE to potentially go on strike a year from now… this strike now has expended us in a way that is going to make it much more difficult.”
For more of TheWrap’s Hollywood strike coverage, click here.