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Most of the panellists should be known to you but if not, don’t panic I’ve got a few details on them at the end of the column.
This week’s question comes from Brian McCoy, a reviewer for SBC who is working on his dissertation in Literature and Criticism while juggling a number of fiction projects. Brian was inspired to ask the question after reading the Panel’s answers on the subject of exclusive contracts. The question is:
“Why is there not some form of basic health insurance for ‘work for hire’ employees (like there is for the exclusive contract employees) and what should these employees do about it?”
Bill Rosemann: “It’s a tough situation that many on both sides of the industry have grappled with for years. On the one hand, when a company publishes a great number of titles, i’s hard to make the math work if every single creator receives a full-time salary and a regular selection of benefits. On the other hand, It’s no fun paying your own medical insurance…and many freelancers do without. That said, those who choose the work-for-hire lifestyle must balance the positives (setting your own hours, working out of your house, etc.) with the negatives (no set paycheck delivery, no health & dental insurance, etc.). Some creators are just fine with this and view this as an acceptable trade, while others wish there was an alternative. Until companies change the way they view and treat comic book creators–or until creators band together and force companies to change–independent contractors have a long wait until this business practice ends. On the other hand–if the situation is right for all parties involved–creators can change their status right now by gaining a staff job for CrossGen, which offers their creators a regular pay check, health & dental insurance, and partial ownership of the company. C’mon, you knew I couldn’t avoid this plug, could I?”
Alan Grant: “Why is there not some form of basic health insurance for “work for hire” employees (like there is for exclusive contract employees) and what should these employees do about it?
I presume the questioner is American, because here in the UK the ruins of the National Health Service do their best–which may not be very good–to embrace all.
The reason there’s no health insurance for “work for hire” employees is precisely because those employees are work for hire. They’re freelances, in theory free to pick and choose their work at will, beholden to no particular company, entrepreneurs in their own right, responsible only for themselves and their work. The companies owe them nothing, except their page rate and possible royalty, and consequently will give them nothing.
If work for hire freelances want health insurance, they should buy it from their earnings.
If I understand UK Tax Law correctly, on this side of the Atlantic it’s impossible to have an exclusive contract with a single company and still file tax returns as if one is a freelance. Those British writers and artists who have signed exclusive contracts might do well to share that information with either their accountants or the tax man.”
Peter David: “There are indeed organizations–groups of editorial types, writers, etc–who, by forming their own consortiums, have managed to acquire medical coverage. There’s not currently one such for comic book freelancers per se, but they do have such groups they can go to. The problem is that it’s horrifically expensive. I have a friend who’s joined one such who’s getting medical coverage for five grand a year. That’s just for him. Once you start adding in family members, it escalates exponentially. I’m not entirely sure what should be done. Years ago, a group of us endeavored to create the Comic Book Professional Association, specifically for the purpose of doing exactly that: Finding reasonable medical coverage. But we couldn’t get anyone else interested and the group never got any momentum. I still have the baseball hats I had printed up, though, if anyone wants to make a go of it.”
Lee Dawson: “Well, in a perfect world…. say like Canada….everyone would have health insurance. Unfortunately here in the States it’s not quite like that so a lot of folks go without. Having freelanced in another industry some time ago I’ve been down the work for hire road and went without insurance for a long time. Now that I’m older and wiser I can only say to those folks in that situation they should get some insurance on their own no matter what! The freelance world is a tough one and the bottom line is you should look out for yourself because in the end it’ll be you stuck with the bill if something happens. And we all know that you just never know what’s around the corner, good or bad.”
Craig Lemon: Because they are freelance operatives, they are not tied to a particular company – at any time they can take (more) work on elsewhere, or even leave. My experiences with large (non-comics) corporations is that paperwork and administration is a huge part of the cost of running said organisations, providing the extra benefits for full-time (i.e. exclusive) employees that part-timers (i.e. work-for-hire contract guys) don’t get. So another part of it is health insurance is an incentive for guys to sign exclusive deals. What should freelancers do about it? Form their own organisation, they pay a monthly subscription into it, they get bulk-negotiated benefits. But then you have to elect governers, pay them for their time, hire accountants, lawyers….so what should they really do about it? Take out health insurance themselves – presumably this is tax deductible anyway, so it wouldn’t cost too much.
Alan Donald: “Cost. That’s the plain and simple answer. There are a hell of a lot of freelancers out there and it would become prohibitive for comicbook companies to offer such benefits to them all. I’m not sure what ‘health insurance’ is beyond what I’ve seen on American TV shows, I still find the concept of the richest country on the planet not having free healthcare for all to be a little hard to swallow (like it’s some kind of media joke designed to make the country unpalatable to would be immigrants).
As I say, I don’t know the costs involved but I’m sure that most freelancers who earn a living off comic work can afford to take out their own insurance. Those who are just scraping by or who have to rely on other incomes (those of a partner or another job) may not be able to afford it.
The former group could conceivably be offered exclusive contract deals at any time. If they are happy with their earnings they will have to make a decision on whether the pros and cons add up, for them do the freedoms of freelancing outweigh the benefits of an exclusive contract?
The latter group could do with help. They may not be able to afford to take out any form of insurance against loss of income. With no health insurance etc they’ll really be in the s**t if they fall ill as they won’t be able to pay the bills and they won’t be able to work to earn money.
So what should the latter group do? Form a union and strike? That’s one way to ensure they never get enough work to be able to afford their own insurance. There in lies the rub they can’t rock the boat. Creators who earn a good living and who have taken care of themselves financially may have no interest in getting involved in such unions – not so much ‘we’re alright, jack’ as ‘don’t jinx a good thing’.”
Summary: This week’s question is a tricky and emotive one. Politics aside the question is still one that is difficult to answer and this is born out by the reduced numbers on the Panel this week. Freelance creators get the benefits of freedom, flexibility and earnings only limited by the work they can get and do. Contracted workers lack these benefits but they have others, such as health care, to make up for that.
This Week’s Panel: Bill Rosemann(Publicist, Crossgen), Alan Grant (Batman, Judge Anderson), Peter David (Captain Marvel), Lee Dawson (publicist, Dark Horse), Alan Donald (some bloke who just wandered in here) and Craig Lemon (the boss).
Next Week’s Question: “Why aren’t there more mainstream titles that feature minority characters in prominent roles, and why don’t “black books” sell??”
Previous Questions: Check out the message board where I’ve put up a list of every question the Panel has faced so far (neatly linked to the column it appeared in) to inspire you and let you know what to avoid.
SBC reserves the right to edit questions for reasons of consistency and inclusivity.
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