IATSE Made a Deal with Producers. Union Members May Not Buy It.

IATSE announced a deal that stopped the strike threat, but it may stop short of what union members are still willing to fight for.
IATSE President Matthew Loeb & IA Solidarity
IATSE President Matthew Loeb & IA Solidarity
Dave Starbuck/Geisler-Fotopress/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Saturday evening IATSE claimed victory with a “landmark” tentative agreement with the AMPTP for new three-year contract for its West Coast Film and Television Workers, who were prepared to go on strike in just little over 24 hours. Negotiations still continue over the Area Standards Agreement, governing production in major production hubs like New Mexico, Georgia, and Louisiana.

While the deal is tentative, and specifics have yet to be made public or shared with members, IATSE is touting victories on a number of its core issues:

  • Achievement of a living wage for the lowest-paid earners
  • Improved wages and working conditions for streaming
  • Retroactive wage Increases of 3 percent annually
  • Increased meal period penalties
  • Daily rest periods of 10 hours without exclusions
  • Weekend rest periods of 54 hours
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday Holiday added to schedule
  • Adoption of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives

“This is a Hollywood ending,” said Loeb in the press release. “We went toe to toe with some of the richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies in the world, and we have now reached an agreement with the AMPTP that meets our members’ needs.”

Gauging by the reaction online, a large number of IATSE members do not see the agreement as a victory. Particular sore spots are the the lack of any restrictions on the length of a shooting day, nor any mention of “new media” (streaming) residuals being paid to the union’s health and pension benefits.

On the IA Stories Instagram post announcing the agreement, there were over 1,000 comments in the first three hours, almost all railing against the deal. On the popular feed — which became a source of solidarity and engagement this summer as members shared their personal stories of the personal affects of long hours — settling for 10-hour weekday turnarounds (which some locals had already) and 54-hour weekend turnarounds felt like a betrayal of the grassroots movement the account helped fuel.

Things were not much better on Twitter, where the official IATSE twitter handle’s post announcing the deal was met by members, via retweets and comments, disappointed leadership did not fight for a better deal. Things were not much better offline, where sources tell IndieWire members are already having discussions focused on how to fight ratification. Should that happen, Loeb and IATSE leadership would be forced to re-open negotiations with the AMPTP.

Once details of the agreement are hammered out, it will go to members for a ratification vote. Traditionally, membership overwhelmingly follows leadership’s recommendations on such matters, but this has not been a traditional three years for the union, which had an unusual ratification battle over its last contract.

In 2018, Loeb found his battle against members over ratification to be harder than the AMPTP negotiations. In that standoff, the grassroots movement inside IATSE spawned from Local 700 (Editors), whose leader, national executive director Cathy Repola, became the reasoned voice of reform.

Loeb saw this as insubordination, and resorted to hardball and borderline underhanded attempts to squash the insurrection (which IndieWire chronicled here) and win the ratification vote.

Should there continue to be pushback over this new deal, Loeb will not likely have one local and one leader he needs to worry about. For one thing, Loeb and Repola — welcomed back to the fold after banishment — have stood shoulder to shoulder through this battle with the AMPTP. More to the point, the base of IATSE’s activism no longer solely resides in a single local or a private Facebook group. That an incredible 90 percent of IATSE turned out for strike authorization vote indicated unparalleled engagement. Meanwhile, #IAStories gives a platform to individual members and creates solidarity across locals.

Until now, that platform has been a wind in Loeb’s sails. If this evening’s brutal response gathers steam, it could become the battleship that sinks his landmark deal.

One thing that aided IATSE leadership in the 2018 ratification vote was a two-month spacing between the announcement of a tentative deal and the ratification vote. Members had returned to work as fall approached, and the energy going toward defeating the deal greatly dissipated.

Regardless, a great deal rides on how Loeb and local leadership present the details of the deal to members early this week. One local leader indicated to IndieWire that financial details of the union’s victories will likely temper the initial anger. While that might be the case, IATSE faces a membership that is more engaged and far better educated on the issues than ever before. That is a tremendous asset to a union taking on the powerful studios, but a tough audience if the victories are not, in fact, “landmark.”

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