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Signaling overwhelming support for its union’s battle with studios over two expiring contracts, as widely expected, IATSE members have voted to authorize an industry-wide strike. This marks the first authorization of a nationwide strike in the union’s history.
Over 98 percent of eligible members from 36 Locals voted to authorize a strike in the momentous contest for the union — which bargains on behalf of over 150,000 crewmembers internationally, including cinematographers, operators, grips, editors, costumers and writers assistants, among others. This strike authorization vote concerns around 60,000, or about 40 percent, of those workers. Meanwhile, about 90 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. Members voted between Oct. 1 and Oct. 3 via ballots that were emailed to them, a little under two weeks after international president Matthew D. Loeb announced to members that the union would take the step amid stalled contract talks.
Additional movement in the negotiations could follow as early as tomorrow. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) asked to return to the bargaining table and indicated that they would present a new offer, a source in guild leadership tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“The members have spoken loud and clear,” Loeb said in a statement on Monday. “This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry. Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage.”
Now, the question is how IATSE intends to use this bargaining chip. According to the union, the vote was prompted by the AMPTP, which represents studio and production companies, declining to respond to their latest package proposal in ongoing negotiations over a new three-year basic agreement. “This failure to continue negotiating can only be interpreted one way. They simply will not address the core issues we have repeatedly advocated for from the beginning,” Loeb and leaders of 13 West Coast locals wrote in a letter to membership on Sept. 20.
The AMPTP countered in a statement that the union had walked away from a “deal-closing comprehensive proposal that meaningfully addresses the IATSE’s key bargaining issues” at a time when the entertainment industry is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement on Monday about the results of the strike authorization vote, the AMPTP said, “The AMPTP remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working. We deeply value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Alliance added, “A deal can be made at the bargaining table, but it will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues.”
To support authorization, each IATSE Local had to have at least 75 percent of its voters choose “yes” to authorize a strike. If the Local met that threshold, then that Local’s delegates could vote “yes” in the larger bargaining unit tally.
According to the union, during negotiations the AMPTP did not satisfactorily budge on critical issues including “excessively unsafe and harmful working hours,” “unlivable wages for the lowest-paid crafts,” “consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends” and “workers on certain ‘new media’ streaming projects get paid less.” With the vote, the union was hoping to demonstrate its workers’ solidarity and gain more leverage in these talks.
The AMPTP, meanwhile, offered details of its proposal to the union on these issues after the announcement of the strike authorization vote. The Alliance said in a statement that it had suggested “meaningful improvements in rest periods” for workers on first-season television and postproduction workers on series television, pilots, films and “distant location.” The Alliance added that it had proposed 10-19 percent increases in minimum rates for some of the union’s lowest-paid crafts and hikes in minimum rates, with an average of 18 percent, for particular kinds of “new media” productions.
The “yes” vote from the IATSE Locals was not unexpected. In recent weeks its criticism of current conditions got louder, with the boards of the largest locals — Local 600 (the International Cinematographers Guild), which represents 9,000 members, and Local 700 (the Motion Picture Editors Guild), with 8,500 members — as well as others, including Local 800 (Art Directors Guild), with 3,000 members, all voting unanimously to urge members to vote “yes” for strike authorization.
“This vote speaks so clearly, with 98 percent there’s no ambiguity,” Local 600 national president John Lindley said following the announcement of the vote results. “The members I spoke with are thrilled with the unity that they see reflected in this vote. They are energized and there’s a feeling like their time is now.”
The additional Locals that work under the Basic Agreement are Local 44 (affiliated property craftspersons), Local 80 (studio grips, crafts service, set medics, marine department and warehouse workers), Local 695 (production sound technicians, television engineers, video assist technicians and studio projectionists), Local 705 (motion picture costumers), Local 706 (makeup artists and hairstylists), Local 728 (studio electrical lighting technicians), Local 729 (set painters and sign writers), Local 884 (studio teachers), Local 871 (script supervisors/continuity, coordinators, accountants & allied production specialists) and Local 892 (costume designers).
Various entertainment union leaders had expressed solidarity with IATSE before the vote, including in one statement signed by leaders of the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, WGAE and Teamsters, including DGA president Lesli Linka Glatter and SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher. The statement asserted that “the basic quality of life and living wage rights [IATSE is] fighting for in their negotiations are the issues that impact all of us who work on sets and productions.”
IATSE had also gained the support of a number of legislators by the end of last week, as the strike vote loomed, for its bargaining issues: On Thursday, 120 members of Congress sent a letter to AMPTP president Carol Lombardini urging the organization to work with IATSE “to reach a fair contract and address the basic human needs that will allow them to do their jobs safely and with dignity.” The next day, 33 New York state senators blasted what they called “outrageous” working conditions for the union’s members and called on both sides to “negotiate in good faith and reach a consensus agreement.” That same day, 50 California state legislators called on the AMPTP to negotiate “fair successor contracts” with IATSE.
As the vote was taking place, during a Saturday car-painting rally Local 600’s national executive director Rebecca Rhine told THR, “Our goal has always been to negotiate an agreement that our members could ratify. And our hope is that we will go back to the table at some point, fairly quickly, and try and see if that can be accomplished.”
Added Local 600’s Lindley, “It’s pretty clear that the employers didn’t take us seriously during the seven weeks of bargaining. They didn’t address some of our core issues, and this strike authorization vote is an effort to get them to take us seriously — and I’d be shocked if they don’t, after seeing what is going on.”
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