Film employee unions vote to authorize strike

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Members of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike that could shut down many Hollywood film and television productions, the union announced Oct. 4.

IATSE members in TV and film production voted to authorize the first nationwide industry strike in our 128-year history,” the union said on Twitter.

According to the union, 98.68% of members who cast ballots voted yes, and voter turnout among eligible members at nearly 90%.

Members of 36 local unions, including 13 on the West Coast, representing 60,000 workers from across the country, granted the approval, the union said.

The vote gives the union’s international president, Matthew Loeb, authority to call a walkoff as the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers continue to wrangle over a range of issues relating primarily to working conditions but also to revenue growing out of streaming and other “new media.”

The authorization does not automatically mean a strike will occur — only that Loeb now has the authority to call a walkout if talks fail to move toward a resolution.

The union represents “below the line” workers such as production and department coordinators, writers’ assistants, cinematographers, costumers, grips, script supervisors, technicians, designers and others.

Voting began Oct. 1, and the large margin of approval had been expected.

The members have spoken loud and clear,” Loeb said. “This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry.

Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage.”

Loeb also said: “I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members. The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.”

Loeb said he informed the AMPTP of the election results and that he “emphasized the need for the studios to adequately address the union’s core issues.”

In response to the vote, the AMPTP quickly released a statement, saying it “remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working.”

We deeply value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the producers’ statement said.

A deal can be made at the bargaining table, but it will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues.”

Union leadership in recent days had “strongly encouraged” its rank-and-file to vote “yes” on the strike authorization.

It was required that 75 percent of members voting in each local union approve the strike vote for that local union to authorize a strike. Talks have been stalled for some time.

On Sept. 21, the union announced that, “After months of negotiating successor contracts to the Producer-IATSE Basic Agreement, and the Theatrical and Television Motion Picture Area Standards Agreement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) announced … it does not intend to make any counteroffer to the IATSE’s most recent proposal.”

Throughout the bargaining process, the AMPTP has failed to work with us on addressing the most grievous problems in their workplaces.”

However, the AMPTP issued a statement Sept. 23 that said talks had broken down and negotiations were suspended Sept. 3, “just days after they began.”

“At that time, both parties agreed they would continue negotiations on the Area Standards Agreement some time after the Hollywood IATSE Basic Agreement bargaining resumed on Sept. 9. The AMPTP made moves just before the parties agreed to recess. The IATSE has yet to respond,” the statement said.

The producers group added: “It is unfortunate the IATSE has gone down the path of publishing false information about the negotiations. This approach unnecessarily polarizes the bargaining parties and elevates tensions at a time when we should be focused on finding ways to avoid a strike.”

The AMPTP said a strike “will have a devastating impact on the industry and inevitably will result in thousands of IATSE members losing their income, failing to qualify for health insurance benefits, jeopardizing funding for the pension plan and disrupting production.”

The producers are committed to reaching an agreement at the bargaining table that balances the needs of both parties and will keep the industry working,” the producers’ statement also said.

Among the key issues, according to the union’s website, are: excessively unsafe and harmful working hours, unlivable wages for the lowest-paid crafts, consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays and on weekends and workers on certain “new media” streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.”

Last week, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, joined with 118 U.S. senators and House members in sending a letter to the AMPTP, urging the association to negotiate collaboratively and in good faith.

The letter followed an action by the Los Angeles City Council earlier in the week, in which four council members introduced a motion urging the AMPTP and the union representing skilled crew and craftspeople to bargain in good faith and come to an agreement. A vote by council members was not immediately scheduled.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell and Councilwoman Nithya Raman, whose districts include parts of Hollywood, said they stood behind the union members Oct. 4.

“IATSE’s membership has sent a clear message that no worker should feel like they have to sacrifice their personal safety in exchange for a wage,” O’Farrell said. “I stand in solidarity with IATSE, its 13 Hollywood locals and the 52,000 working women and men across California. 

“This is a moral issue, and it is critical to our economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic. I strongly encourage the producers to come to an agreement with IATSE, so that workers are treated fairly and productions can be kept going.”

Said Raman: “IATSE members are the heart and soul of the entertainment industry, without whom our favorite movies and TV shows simply wouldn’t exist. These productions should not come at the expense of health, adequate rest and fair compensation. 

“I stand in solidarity with IATSE workers fighting for what they are owed and I’m proud to have co-presented a resolution with my colleagues, calling for an agreement that adequately answers IATSE’s demands.”

Councilman Kevin De León added: “I know that workers don’t take a strike vote lightly. Today’s near-unanimous vote by IATSE workers is damn near impossible to ignore.

I am calling on AMPTP to get to the table and negotiate in good faith around improved working conditions, higher pay, and better health benefits. These workers hold up our billion-dollar film and television industry and it’s time they’re treated like the industry professionals they are.”