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SAG Members Eye Insurance Issue

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A state Labor Department official met with Screen Actors Guild/New York members recently, explaining the new unemployment insurance eligibility law, noting that maximum benefits had increased and informing them that actors' favorite Midtown DOL branchlocated on w. 54th St., will close.

State unemployment insurance eligibility is now based solely on quarterly earnings rather than weeks of work, according to Richard A. Marino, director of the state department's adjudication services. According to SAG, he met with the union at its spring membership meeting last week. SAG and other unions have expressed concern that the new system could prove particularly harmful to actors due to their erratic employment.

John Sucke, executive director of SAG/NY, told the members, "We will, along with SAG's legislative committee and staff, continue to monitor this situation and cooperate with the AFL-CIO in keeping legislators apprised of our concerns and the realities of the new law."

Sucke also was lightly critical of the new law's complexity. Following Marino's explanation, the union exec commented that it reminded him of an advanced calculus class: "Both were equally confusing," Sucke said.

The new rules call for claimants to have worked at least two quarters of the base period and to have earned at least $1,600 in one quarter and total wages of at least $2,400.

Members at the meeting voiced concern, explaining to Marino that actors may work one day in one quarter, and then not work for several months. They offered examples of an actor earning $5,000 over a year by collecting $1,250 per quarter and therefore not being eligible for unemployment. Another performer collecting $20,000 in one quarter and zip in other quarters, also wouldn't qualify.

So Long, W. 54th St. Branch

Marino also presented members with the bad news that the 247 W. 54th St. branch would join other DOL field offices which are closing down. Many actors use the office, which is in close proximity to Broadway theatres and SAG and Actors' Equity offices.

Marino said, "We are converting to a touch-tone telephone system, allowing claimants to handle all business by phone in the future. A lot less paperwork will be required, as all wage reporting will be handled by telephone and a computer system integrated nationally." Some members noted they would miss dealing in person with DOL staff, thus assuring proper handling of their claims.

Maximum weekly unemployment benefits increased last September from $300 to $365 per week, Marino said, emphasizing that they were higher than California's $230 per week. Another hike, possibly to $400 per week, is expected for September 2000.

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