IATSE Members Talk Strike During Editors Guild Meeting: "We’re Ready to Take it to the Streets"

The recent meetings may pressure IATSE president Matt Loeb to take a hard line in seeking streaming video residuals to shore up the union pension plan.
Deverill Weeks/Courtesy of MPEG
National executive director Cathy Repola speaks at Motion Picture Editors Guild membership meeting

Just 10 days in advance of contract expiration, almost 2,000 members of IATSE Local 700, the Motion Picture Editors Guild, gathered Saturday in Universal City for a three-hour meeting in what a union board member called an “electric” atmosphere charged with enthusiasm for a potential strike.

During the meeting, members were fueled by concern that negotiators for Hollywood studios are starving the IATSE pension plan by refusing demands to contribute residuals from the streaming services to Netflix and other subscription VOD platforms to the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans that serve the union’s members.

The MPIPHP is funded in part by home video residuals, but with DVD being a dying medium, IATSE leaders are seeking so-called high-budget SVOD residuals previously achieved in 2014 and 2017 by unions representing directors, writers and actors.

"The producers are just ignoring us," Editors Guild board member A.J. Catoline told The Hollywood Reporter. "They’re saying the IA never strikes. ... They need to know we’re ready to take it to the streets." Catoline also warned that the union can "shut down all TV and film in the country if necessary."

Local 700 is a so-called "national local" in IATSE’s complement of 14 Los Angeles-based West Coast studio locals. Most only have jurisdiction in 13 Western states, but Locals 600 (International Cinematographers) and 700 have nationwide reach. Including 800 (Art Directors), they are said to be the three largest of the group. The contract at issue, dubbed the IATSE Basic Agreement, applies only to those 14 Locals and contains the existing residuals provisions.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the studios' negotiating arm, declined to comment, but a studio-side source told THR, "We’re committed to fully funding the Plans. In the end, there will be a residual for them."

Negotiations between IATSE and the AMPTP, led by president Carol Lombardini, are set to resume Tuesday. Two earlier sessions were held in April and June. The union meetings — which drew a reported overflow crowd of 1,880 members Saturday in Los Angeles, 300 in New York on July 17 and 80 in the Bay Area — were intended to send a loud message, but not just to the studios.

"IATSE members are … ultimately trying to send a message of support to International President Matt Loeb, who leads the negotiations," said an article published Saturday on the Editors Guild’s online news site, CineMontage. "However, the IATSE has never asked the group of Hollywood motion picture locals to call for a general strike. Judging by the pro-union mood of members at the recent meetings and social media postings, these could be different times."

From the Editors Guild perspective, the international president may need a nudge. A CineMontage piece in June quoted Loeb as saying, "We won’t be afraid to wrestle at the edge of the cliff, [but] I’m not looking for a war."

"Next week is crucial," said the Saturday article, and "will tell if union members and their leadership are prepared to engage in such a war." Editors Guild national executive director Cathy Repola — who Catoline says received 10 standing ovations at the Saturday meeting — declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Locals 600 and 800.

Notwithstanding the tough talk, "we’re hopeful that a deal is reached," said Catoline.

IATSE faces a particular challenge in achieving its goal, because many forms of reuse that currently generate residuals for above the line unions don’t for the IA. For instance, when basic cable shows rerun, broadcast shows play on Hulu or HBO shows are syndicated, the members of the Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA all enjoy residuals. Meanwhile, IATSE’s pension and health fund, the MPIPHP, does not.

Only certain types of reuse generate residuals for the MPIPHP, whereas most forms of reuse generate residuals for above the line workers. (IATSE crew themselves never get residuals; only their benefit plans do.) Other issues in play include working hours, turnaround time and meal breaks.

But IATSE is not the only union looking at the 2014 and 2017 high-budget SVOD formulas and demanding a piece.

As THR previously reported, SAG-AFTRA obtained a strike authorization and may soon resume negotiations over the issue, because its members who do voiceover work in television animation for high-budget SVOD programs don’t receive residuals and want the same payments as their live action colleagues.

And that, in short, raises the possibility that the industry could see not one but two strikes simultaneously, both focused on the same issue: new media.