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Writers’ assistant Olga Lexell used to rack up around $10,000 a year in medical bills to manage a chronic condition, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, that requires her to sit through thyroid X-rays and frequent blood tests. While her show was on hiatus, she would pay $500 a month to extend the insurance that the studio offered, even though it was “never that good.” It wasn’t until writers’ assistants and script coordinators banded together in early 2018 to unionize under the banner of IATSE Local 871 that her healthcare costs shrunk dramatically.
“Once we unionized, my medical expenses went down from about $10,000 a year to $300 a year,” said Lexell. “I went to see my doctor, where my co-pay used to be $65 under the studio plan, and it was only $5. And I cried. I was so floored.”
Lexell - Dozen - Writers - Assistants - Script
Lexell, like many of the more than dozen writers’ assistants and script coordinators who spoke with Variety, cite access to health insurance as one of the biggest immediate benefits of unionization.
“It’s been incredible,” she said. “Honestly, if we hadn’t unionized, I don’t know that I would still be working in this industry.”
Outcry - Online - Wages - Stress - Instability
The recent outcry online over the low wages, high stress and professional instability that assistants face — given a voice through the hashtag #PayUpHollywood — has served to highlight the significance of writers’ assistants and script coordinators’ successful unionization efforts. But it has also brought into focus the challenges that remain for this particular group of entertainment industry support staff — high union initiation fees and alleged retaliatory measures from studios, for instance — as they fight to earn a living wage.
Writers assistants had previously appealed to the Writers Guild Association to let them organize under the WGA banner, but were denied in their efforts.
WGA - West - Movement - Working
While the WGA West “supports the movement to improve working...
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