While comedy critics and comedians continue to debate the merits of paying the performers at the Upright Citizens Brigade theaters — yes, it remains a healthy debate, along the lines of the old 1970s school versus employer defense once employed by the late Mitzi Shore at The Comedy Store — we now also know that the UCB is lacking when it comes to offering its actual employees health insurance.
Thank Lee Rubenstein for stepping forward.
Rubenstein has taught 149 sketch comedy courses at the UCB, first in New York and since 2011 in Los Angeles. His Sketch 101 class that starts next week in LA already is sold out. Before teaching at UCB, he had taken classes at UCB and gotten selected as a writer for the theater’s sketch (Maude) teams. Somehow, amazingly, in 12 years with the UCB, Rubenstein still has not met any of the UCB 4 “other than in passing.” I know this, because even more amazingly, Rubenstein wrote an open letter to the UCB 4 on Monday asking why they still do not offer basic health insurance coverage to any of their employees.
In June, the UCB 4 held a meeting with employees and performers to discuss the theatre’s finances. Rubenstein asked then about health insurance for its teachers. “The moderator said that my question was a labor question and that we should discuss it at a different time,” Rubenstein wrote in a public post on Facebook. So he asked again in a separate email. No response. “I believe a discussion about this issue (among a host of others related to fair labor practices) is important, so if we can’t have it in private, we should have it in public.”
Rubenstein remains grateful for the life-changing opportunity to teach at UCB, and recognizes that the theatres have made strides on this front, including offering paid sick days for employees.
“Something that Besser mentioned really stuck with me after the meeting, which is that even as UCB is going through restructuring, certain things were necessities,” Rubenstein wrote. “First among those things was insurance. Without insurance, one bad day could mean the whole company has to shut down. I think it’s important to have a conversation about how many of your teachers are one bad day away from that very same fate.”
Rubenstein and other teachers receive W-2s from the UCB. But how many of them are considered full-time employees? If it’s more than 50, of course, then the Affordable Care Act has something to say about that. If they’re not considered full-time employees or equivalent, then what?