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Deal or no deal? After months of getting increasingly vocal about their work conditions, members of IATSE are about to decide whether to accept the strike-averting tentative bargain that their union made with the major Hollywood studios on Oct. 16.
IATSE members begin voting today via an online ballot system on ratification of a tentative three-year Basic Agreement and Area Standards Agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The agreements affect roughly 60,000 film and TV workers and, as the vote begins, many insiders admit they are not certain what the outcome will be.
On Thursday, IATSE international president Matthew Loeb made a final plea to members to vote “yes” in a letter that enjoined the union to “carefully review the information on the new agreement and vote in favor of its ratification.” In the message, Loeb emphasized that the roughly five-month-long negotiations for the Basic Agreement amid a pandemic and after a widespread production shutdown had been particularly difficult, but that the union’s overwhelming vote in favor of an unprecedented strike authorization in October “was vital to achieving success in the priority areas you had identified for us.”
The union also recently released a 12-minute video that explains how the union reached its tentative agreement and lauds how hot-button issues like rest periods, Fraturdays and meals are handled in the contract. In the video, the union additionally celebrates rejecting proposals it says the AMPTP brought forward during talks, including “flexible meals,” which the union says would have entailed French hours without a crew vote and the possibility of a production not offering meal breaks; an end to all-night premium provisions; higher healthcare costs and a decrease in retirement benefits; tripled hours to qualify for a pension, with delayed or no pension increases; and no more golden hours. (The AMPTP declined to comment.) “This landmark tentative agreement provides every Local with something their membership wanted. No Local or craft was left behind,” the narrator says in the video.
The Basic Agreement bargaining committee has also called for a “yes” vote and, over the past few weeks, Locals have been holding member meetings, which some members have described as tense, to explain the details of the contract, hyping up gains that include a 3 percent annual increase in scale wages, daily 10-hour turnarounds and 54- and 32-hour weekend rest periods for five-day weeks and six-day weeks, respectively.
But some members feel the Basic Agreement deal doesn’t go far enough and have spent recent weekdays and weekends at various member meetings — both organized by IATSE leadership and via several grassroots efforts — as well as in online forums to discuss the details. Last week more specifics on the Basic Agreement and Area Standards deals were revealed in a dense 49-page memorandum of agreement that summarizes in greater legal detail what members might gain as a result of voting “yes.” Some members who oppose the deal consulted outside labor negotiators and lawyers before the ratification vote to hear another opinion on what was gained and lost and learn their options, such as what could happen if members do vote “no.”
One group that has repeatedly urged members to vote against ratification, the popular Instagram account @IA_Members, operated by self-proclaimed anonymous IATSE members, has for weeks organized a survey about the tentative deal. The survey asks respondents for their emails, their Locals and member IDs, but respondents were allowed to opt to remain anonymous. @IA_Members claims over 600 individuals from all 13 Basic Agreement-covered Locals have taken the survey, with 72 percent saying they would vote “no” to ratify the contract, nearly 19 percent saying they didn’t have enough information about the deal to make a decision and 4.6 percent saying they would vote “yes.” Individuals were allowed to submit ideas for improving the tentative contract for respondents to vote on: Popular suggestions included “no more new media” and “increased revenue from streaming sources.”
Almost as soon as IATSE released details about the Basic Agreement tentative deal in mid-October, during the weekend before the union’s planned strike date, IATSE members were divided about whether the union had made the most of its leverage. With strike preparations in full swing before the deal was announced, some members were still ready and willing to withhold their labor, especially those who weren’t happy with the touted gains on issues like turnaround time and wage increases. Later in October, the death of director of photography and Local 600 member Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust — she was killed after a firearm went off during a rehearsal — reignited conversations about workplace safety.
The Basic Agreement generally applies to the union’s 13 West Coast Locals, three of which are national (including Local 600, 700 and 800). The largest of these Locals are Local 600 (International Cinematographers Guild) and Local 700 (Motion Picture Editors Guild), each with over 8,000 members. The ASA, on the other hand, generally covers work done outside the New York and Los Angeles areas, in states including Georgia, Louisiana and New Mexico.
The ratification vote for these tentative agreements is being conducted electronically and using a delegate system wherein each of the Locals will have a certain number of delegate votes, pertaining to their size, that they can contribute towards the final tally. Voting will close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, and the results are scheduled to be announced on Monday.
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