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IATSE Members Approve Contracts: The Strike Threat Is Over, but Labor Strife Won’t Go Away

Approval of the Basic Agreement was rejected in the popular vote, but won the delegate vote. It's just one sign of members' unsatisfied desire for fundamental, industrywide change.

IATSE

IATSE

IATSE

IATSE members have voted to ratify two new three-year contracts with the AMPTP, ending the possibility of a strike that would have severely disrupted production. But the vote was close, confirming the divide between the union’s leaders and their rank-and-file members and making it clear that the labor strife in Hollywood won’t go away anytime soon.

The vote is similar to the presidential Electoral College, where each local has a number of delegates in proportion to their size and the majority vote awards delegates on a winner-take-all basis. For the Hollywood Basic Agreement, the vote was 256-188 from delegates representing the 13 Hollywood Locals. For the Area Standards Agreement, the vote was 103-94 from delegates representing 23 locals nationwide.

As can happen in U.S. presidential elections, the Basic Agreement lost the popular vote despite winning the delegate vote: 50.4 percent voted no and 49.6 percent voted yes. The Area Standards Agreement saw 52 percent approval and 48 percent vote no.

“From start to finish, from preparation to ratification, this has been a democratic process to win the very best contracts,” said IATSE International President Matthew Loeb. “The vigorous debate, high turnout, and close election, indicates we have an unprecedented movement-building opportunity to educate members on our collective bargaining process and drive more participation in our union long-term.”

The results mark a major turnaround from the last IATSE vote, which came last month. Amid stalled contract negotiations between IATSE and the AMPTP, members voted with over 98 percent approval to authorize a strike. Turnout was also lower this time: Some 90 percent voted in the strike-authorization election, less than 72 percent voted in this one.

Loeb sized an opportunity presented by a grassroots moment that had taken hold over the summer, led by leagues of below-the-line workers who started speaking out on social media about the long hours, low pay, and sometimes dangerous working conditions in production. Many say the pandemic, which shut down production for several months, offered a new perspective on work-life balance and made them reconsider how conglomerates getting rich on streaming were benefiting from their labor.

For IATSE negotiators, the unity shown in the strike-authorization vote was a bargaining chip to take back to the producers. After announcing the union was ready for a strike, Loeb and the studios came to an eleventh-hour deal in October that averted the possibility of a strike. But many of the members say the show of strike-authorization unity was a mandate for Loeb to push the studios for the kind of fundamental, industrywide change that the grassroots movement had been pushing for. Instead, the changes in the contracts ratified Monday are more incremental.

The biggest changes will come to a smaller group of members, including some represented by Local 871. That local, which covers writers assistants, script coordinators, and others, had among IATSE’s lowest-paid crafts workers: The new contract calls for some of their wages to increase from $16 an hour to $26 an hour over the next three years.

Other wages increase only 3 percent annually across the board, far less than the 6.2 percent inflation seen over the last 12 months. Other changes include modest increases to overnight turnaround times and increased meal penalties.

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