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While members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) voted to ratify a new three-year Basic Agreement with the studios and streaming services, the divisive deal just squeaked by thanks to a delegate voting system, even as 50.4 percent of the popular vote rejected the contract. (Ratification vote results were revealed Nov. 15.)
Now, the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) are set to implement an unpopular agreement amid a reinvigorated labor movement and concerns over key issues such as funding of the MPI Pension and Health Plans, livable wages and rest periods among the membership.
During the unveiling of the ratification vote results, the union’s international president, Matthew Loeb, acknowledged that it had been a “close election” preceded by “vigorous debate.” Gains in the contract include 3 percent annual scale wage increases, 10-hour daily turnarounds for more members and 54- and 32-hour weekend rest periods for five-day and six-day weeks, respectively.
Still, those who voted against ratification felt the gains didn’t go far enough, and even some who voted in favor believed the deal was simply the better of two poor options. Some unhappy with the deal fault IATSE’s delegate voting system — sometimes compared to the Electoral College — that this time around narrowly passed the Basic Agreement despite a simple majority “no” vote in the popular vote. “The will of the majority of members of the IATSE was ignored, and an archaic voting method with a shameful history ensured that the company line and status quo prevailed,” said script supervisor and Local 871 member Robert Moon, who also serves on 871’s board of directors, in a statement.
Will this be a wake-up call for IATSE and the AMPTP? Some members suggest that IATSE has been too amenable to the AMPTP, which they view as demonstrating a callous attitude toward the workers. The AMPTP said in a statement about the vote results that the Basic and Area Standards Agreements “meaningfully reflect the industry’s endorsement of those priorities [i.e., better working conditions] and keep everyone working.”
The deal — which covers more than 40,000 members in 13 Locals — was rejected by five of the 13 Locals, including the International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600), with a slim 52 percent of the vote; as the largest of the Locals, 600 carried the most delegate votes. The voting period became particularly fervent in this guild following the death of Local 600 cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October, after a prop gun handled by Alec Baldwin discharged during a rehearsal on the set of the film Rust. “We had a terrible thing happen on set … [and circumstances including] the pandemic have made this a very volatile moment,” acknowledges cinematographer Stephen Lighthill of the mood during the bargaining period.
Eight Locals, including the Motion Picture Editors Guild (Local 700), voted to ratify the deal, with the Editors Guild, the second-largest Local with 8,500 members, narrowly passing it with 51.9 percent of the vote. “We absolutely must remain focused on unifying the membership while still acknowledging the message sent by this small margin,” Local 700 national executive director Cathy Repola said in a letter to members Nov. 15 following the vote results. “I recognize we have a lot of work to do.”
A key issue that isn’t going to go away following the vote is concern over the continued funding of the pension and health plans. A section of the deal calls for union and producer representatives to form a committee to “conduct a joint study to examine the long-term status” of the plans and form “possible alternative Plan structures going forward.” The results of the study would be due to union negotiators and producers by July 1.
Another lingering issue is rest periods: Broadly, the deal includes a 10-hour turnaround (the rest period between work shifts) applying to more members in the union, but this did not satisfy critics who are seeking more time to rest and commute. According to the new deal, IATSE, the AMPTP and DGA representatives must convene by Jan. 31 to further discuss the importance of timely meal periods for members, some of whom claim that studios even bake fees into their budgets for missed or late meals, expecting to keep crewmembers working uninterrupted.
Some say the time to start strategizing for the next negotiation period is now and believe the circumstances surrounding this vote will result in more member involvement in the union. While this Basic Agreement runs through the next three years, IATSE’s Low-Budget Theatrical Agreement talks are set for 2022.
With members against the contract organizing meetings and Zooms, grassroots efforts to more radically shift work conditions also might continue. Local 600 member Annie Shifflette, who’s involved with one of the grassroots efforts, says her group is “looking toward starting to organize and fight for the next contract cycle.” The group also is preparing a statement to send to members. It’s compiling a database of member contacts and continuing discussions with outside labor negotiators to determine how to proceed in order to “reshape” the union. DSA-LA’s Hollywood Labor subcommittee also exhorted IATSE and other industry members to continue organizing with their group, tweeting: “We’re going to have to put in the work organizing with and electing likeminded comrades throughout each and every local.”
On the other end of the spectrum are the members who say the new Basic Agreement is a good contract with solid gains and believe their threat of a strike may have empowered them for future negotiations. Said Local 600 national executive board member Mark Weingartner, “With this level of involvement, with the next contract I think we’ll get even more. The trend is in the right direction.”
Negotiations will soon begin on additional labor contracts that could be affected by the Basic Agreement language. Local 839 (the Animation Guild) has not been able to negotiate their master agreement without a Basic Agreement in place; the Local scheduled a negotiations-focused town hall for Tuesday. Talks for the Teamsters Local 399’s “Black Book” deal, Location Manager deal and Casting Director deal do not yet have a start date but were previously scheduled for mid-November. The Teamsters Local 399 and IATSE share health and pension plans.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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