- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Colby Bachiller remembers “crying my eyes out to another fellow script coordinator” about mounting bills when she got the idea for a hashtag advocating for higher wages in her role and for others in her union. As she was fretting over whether to cut back on her cat, dog or car expenses, Bachiller says, “Right then and there, calling back to #PayUpHollywood and #MeToo, [I realized] it was time for us to share our stories.”
That “aha” moment for Bachiller, who worked on OWN drama series Greenleaf for several seasons as a producer’s assistant, resulted in the #IALivingWage hashtag. Members of her union — IATSE Local 871, which represents four crafts that all have minimum pay rates of less than $18 an hour in their contracts — have been using that hashtag to tell personal stories of financial struggle. Since late June, they’ve talked about going into credit card debt between gigs, working multiple jobs and delaying having children, among other sacrifices, against the backdrop of new contract talks between IATSE and the AMPTP, the studios’ and networks’ negotiating body. (Talks are paused until mid-August.)
In those negotiations, Local 871 is attempting to “codify a living wage” for script coordinators, writers assistants, assistant production coordinators and art department coordinators, says script coordinator and 871 member Jamie Tunkel, whose credits include CBS’ FBI. “Unfortunately, the AMPTP is balking at our request for a rate increase that would allow our members to have a living wage in Los Angeles,” adds Shawn Waugh, an 871 member, script coordinator and author of Everything Sucks and I Hate Everyone: The Complete Guide to Script Coordinating (for Drama). A rep for the AMPTP declined to comment for this report.
The social media campaign, which has earned the support of such industry figures as Disney heir Abigail Disney and writer-producers Liz Hannah and LaToya Morgan, is poised to put pressure on the AMPTP as Local 871 asks for what likely will be a substantial percentage increase on these crafts’ current minimum rates. It’s also, in the process, shedding light on the obstacles to higher pay that these workers have faced even as unionized support staffers.
IATSE members will not reveal what specific minimum rates they are seeking as negotiation details are being kept under wraps during a media blackout period. Still, several union members have encouraged at least $25 an hour with a 60-hour-a-week guarantee in #IALivingWage tweets. The official hours guarantee per week is important, sources say, because then workers will also be paid for 60 hours a week on holidays, when low-paid support staffers typically see a dip in pay, or no pay at all. Local 871 vice president and art department coordinator Marisa Shipley adds that the union calculated the average L.A. rent price for ZIP codes where members live (about $1,770 a month) and the minimum annual salary they would need to not be considered “rent burdened” (a little over $70,000 a year).
If members are working 39 weeks a year at 60 hours a week (an optimistic figure — from 2017 to 2020, these members tended to work less than 26 weeks a year, per internal union data), Shipley says a living wage would offer at least $25.95 an hour. Currently, the union minimum for writers assistants, assistant production coordinators and art department coordinators is $16 an hour or a little bit over and $17.64 an hour for script coordinators.
Higher minimums are necessary, Local 871 members say, because employers sometimes treat their current base rates as the only rates they can pay, not a wage floor. And while 60 hours a week is unofficially common for many support staffers in the industry, who tend to rely on overtime pay, “In some cases, we see that when people have successfully negotiated a higher hourly wage for themselves, in retaliation, their hours are being cut, leaving them with less gross wages,” Shipley says.
When Local 871 began negotiating on behalf of writers assistants and script coordinators for their first union contract in 2017, compromises were made on minimum rates in order to secure other wins, like access to the Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plans. Art department coordinators and assistant production coordinators, meanwhile, did not get minimum rates in their contract until 2015 and therefore were for a time unable to negotiate for percentage-based contractual wage increases.
Larger TV production trends also have stymied those seeking raises. Short production schedules, small episode orders and writers “mini-rooms” have led to less overall income on each show and more job-hunting, 871 members say, while the general dearth of series with multiple seasons has diminished the number of roles with relative job security and chances for promotion.
“There used to be a clear ladder where the first season, you were the writers’ PA, the second season you were the writers assistant or script coordinator, maybe the second or third season you got a freelance job, and once you freelanced, the next season you would staff,” says writers assistant and 871 member Amy Thurlow, who is on the local’s negotiations committee. “And you can’t get there when there’s only one season of a show.”
Since the #IALivingWage hashtag began gaining traction in late June, some sympathetic showrunners, producers and other higher-ups have publicly shared their own attempts to improve pay for these roles. Inspired by the hashtag, Lucifer co-showrunner Joe Henderson emailed executives he works with to remind them he supports a living wage for support staff and not long after, fired off a tweet urging other showrunners to do the same. Henderson says he often attempts to improve support staffers’ pay and believes “it’s our responsibility as showrunners to reach out to people we work with and to give them arrows in the quiver with which to advocate on our behalf.”
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit consulting producer Lisa Takeuchi Cullen tweeted about paying an assistant partially out of her own pocket after her studio told her it paid a “nonnegotiable” rate of $20 an hour to assistants, when she was advocating for $25 an hour. “I felt that it was really my duty and responsibility to match that pay,” she says.
Legends of Tomorrow co-showrunner Keto Shimizu, who tweeted that studios must pay writers room support staff higher wages if they want diverse talent, tells The Hollywood Reporter she encourages showrunners to “really push back on whatever wage your financial department is presenting. If they’re too low, say it. I think that showrunners should have a foot to stand on in that and say, ‘No, this isn’t good enough.’”
While writers assistants and script coordinators report directly to showrunners and establish a rapport with them, they tend to negotiate their wages with line producers, production accountants, business affairs departments or individuals in other roles. Notes writers assistant and script coordinator Amy Paulette Hartman, who is also on the 871 negotiations committee, “A lot of times, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what your showrunner wants.”
This story first appeared in the July 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day