Tens of thousands of Hollywood crafts workers represented by IATSE are set to begin voting October 1 on whether to authorize a strike that would lead to a nationwide shutdown of TV and film production.
It comes as the international union and local branches are working to coalesce editors, camera operators, grips, and others around a “yes” vote, seizing a moment where conversations about workers’ rights and wealth inequality have grown louder over the last year.
IATSE leaders on Monday told members that a sustained impasse in contract negotiations between IATSE and studios prompted the union to move forward with a strike authorization vote. At issue are wages that hover just above California’s $14 minimum for the lowest-paid crafts, workdays that often exceed 12 hours, overnight turnaround time as short as nine hours, employers who skimp on meal breaks, and workers paid lower wages for “new media” projects (aka streaming) versus theatrical movies and network TV series.
Labor leaders said the studios’ bargaining representatives from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers did not not intend to respond to their most recent proposal, sent earlier this month, which covered some of those issues. In response, the AMPTP on Monday called its own most recent proposal a generous, “deal-closing” one.
The 13 Hollywood locals, representing 60,000 workers that are covered by that in-negotiation contract are set begin voting in simultaneous elections beginning October 1, IndieWire has confirmed. Deadline first reported that leaders from Local 80 and Local 44 announced to their members Wednesday night that their elections would take place October 1-3.
“The purpose of this vote is to give the IA president and negotiating committee the authority to call a strike if they determine that is the only way to get the producers back to the negotiating table,” Local 80 told its members, according to Deadline.
IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb sent a letter Thursday morning to members urging them to vote to authorize the strike. Below is the dispatch in its entirety.
Dear Brothers, Sisters and Kin,
I write you with a deep sense of commitment to addressing your profound concerns with respect to the wages, terms and conditions under which you work. As you may be aware, negotiations with the major producers have reached a standstill. They refused to reply to our last proposal.
Throughout these negotiations we have stressed our priorities repeatedly and without waiver. We have offered the producers options. They well know what it will take to get a deal done. Nonetheless we must move forward in the fight for our causes which are irrefutably about fairness. We must remain united and prove our resolve.
We are at a stage where the employers have made this struggle about power, not reason. Therefore, we are initiating a vote to authorize me to call a strike if necessary. It is crucial that every member understand the seriousness of this matter and return their ballot in favor of the strike vote. A clear decisive message will be sent.
In solidarity, MDL
Because contract negotiations happen behind closed doors, it’s hard to gauge the gap between the two sides’ positions. But it’s clear that IATSE is seizing a moment to push studios harder on issues that have long pained Hollywood workers.
IATSE Stories, an Instagram account dedicated to anonymously posting below-the-line workers’ production testimonies of tough working conditions quickly struck a chord: It’s amassed over 90,000 followers since it launched in August.
Founded by Brooklyn-based lighting technician Ben Gottlieb, the account gives insight into the work-to-the-bone culture of production. There’s stories about exhausted PAs falling asleep behind the wheel, a woman who couldn’t take a week off for a mastectomy, and someone who developed a bladder condition from being unable to take bathroom breaks.
The possibility of an IATSE strike comes on the heels of other movements that targeted abusive practices commonplace in Hollywood. Powerful men are being held to account for their sexual and other abuses, agency assistants finally have names, and the salary floor for entry-level jobs is slowly creeping upward.
Social media has played a huge role in allowing workers to organize. Here, it sets the stage for what could be the biggest disruption to Hollywood since the writer’s strike in 2007, which saw 12,000 WGA workers walk off the job while other SAG and Teamsters members refused to cross picket lines.
Within IATSE, 13 locals are covered by the three-year basic agreement under negotiation by the union and studios. Any strike would include those 60,000 members, but IATSE’s membership totals 150,000 across all industries, most of whom are covered under other bargaining agreements.
Whether a strike is limited to the members of the 13 locals or IATSE’s entire film and TV production membership, it has the potential to halt production across the country. With the possibility of workers from other Hollywood unions joining in, the situation becomes even more dire.
The writers’ strike cost the industry $380 million, according to a UCLA study. Stockpiled programming and the explosion of reality TV helped offset the losses. Today’s demand for content exists on an entirely different — and massive — scale. Union labor works across scripted and unscripted spaces and the losses for studios could be severe, giving the AMPTP huge incentive to avoid a walkout. Should the strike authorization vote be successful, it would give IATSE an upper hand in negotiations: The studios would be faced with the choice of either coming to an agreement, or risk a strike.
Among the locals is Local 871, which represents script supervisors, production coordinators, accountants, and more. Patric Abaravich, Local 871’s business representative, said he and his colleagues have been text-message banking nightly, reaching more than 700 of the local’s 3,400 members each night.
“There’s so much talk on the sets that people know what’s going on, but this gives them the opportunity to ask if they do have a question, then we can get back to them on specifics,” he said. “When somebody spends 12, 14, 16 hours a day, weeks on end on a show working, sometimes they don’t know the nuances of the agreements that they’re working on. That becomes my job, our job, as union leaders to help enhance their understanding.”
On Wednesday, he said he made about 30 calls to members to follow up on questions they’ve raised in the text exchanges.
The strike authorization vote works on a delegate system, where three-quarters of a local’s membership must vote “yes” in order for that local’s delegate votes to be recorded in favor of the authorization.