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Though top entertainment labor unions have publicly come out in support of a California set safety bill inspired by the tragedy on Rust, a vocal group of crew members is pushing back on the proposal, claiming legislative overreach.
On Monday the special effects advocacy group The Alliance of Special Effects & Pyrotechnic Operators (ASEPO) sent a strongly worded letter voicing the group’s “stark opposition” to SB 735, a bill that proposes to further regulate firearms on set and launch a safety pilot program on a number of productions in the state. The executive board of IATSE Local 44 — the local union representing special effects professionals, including many members of ASEPO, as well as property masters, construction coordinators and set decorators, among others — last week overwhelmingly passed a motion to write a letter of opposition to the bill, introduced by State Senator Dave Cortese. There was then an amendment to the motion, and the language and status of the letter is still in limbo, per insiders.
Outside a Local 44 meeting on Saturday, ASEPO organized a letter-writing campaign that saw union members sign hundreds of messages of opposition to the bill, according to sources who were present. The letters were addressed to the California Senate’s Standing Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement, which is chaired by Cortese and heard the bill on Wednesday. “Please vote NO to protect our industry from unnecessary overreach and California’s economy from runaway production,” the letters stated.
ASEPO — a coalition of special effects workers and vendors — is eager to show that, while major industry unions including the Directors Guild of America and the International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600) have backed the bill, not all of labor is in favor. Cortese’s office had no comment when reached by THR, but referred to a statement on Wednesday that called the bill “groundbreaking legislation that protects the health and safety of television and film workers.”
ASEPO is specifically taking issue with involving state government in the industry’s preexisting safety process and the impact the bill could have on production in California.
In their letter, group leaders including president Jesse Noel (special effects coordinator on Black Panther and Bumblebee) and vice president J.D. Streett (special effects supervisor on The Old Man) criticize the bill’s suggestion that some of the industry’s non-binding safety recommendations be codified into law (the letter erroneously states that all 70 safety recommendations would be written into law if the bill passed; only two focused on firearms and ammunition would, according to the current language of the bill). “This is problematic because as changes are made to the Safety Bulletins, they become de facto changes to the law,” the letter said. “The Safety Bulletins are intentionally referred to as ‘recommendations,’ ‘recommended practices,’ and ‘guidelines’ because we recognize that it can’t possibly speak to every situation, and must leave room for reasonable choices.”
ASEPO also raises the specter of “runaway production” (films and television shows leaving California for other states) if the bill is written into law. The group claims that the bill’s requirement that titles participating in California’s Film & TV tax credit program hire “safety advisors” in a pilot program will present “financial or logistic burdens [that] send more shows out of state,” such as having to hire what the group estimates to be “thousands” of qualified safety advisors if the pilot program is expanded.
The industry’s current safety program is self-regulating: Productions abide by a set of recommendations developed by a committee of representatives from labor and management. That program “has evolved over the past 40 years to be a really rigorous and comprehensive program that has been incredibly successful and has made California the safest [state] to make motion pictures,” argues ASEPO secretary and visual effects supervisor and coordinator Clark James (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Danger Force). “This bill fails to acknowledge that.”
Adds ASEPO vice president and Local 44 member Streett, speaking for himself and not any organization, “The bill is not written by anyone that knows the film industry and it’s clumsy at best. And I’m afraid that it will drive business away from Southern California.”
Like ASEPO, the Local 44 executive board was concerned with the potential to add further bureaucracy and expense to production in the state, say sources who were present at the meeting where they discussed a potential letter of opposition. (Local 44 has not returned a request for comment.) This puts the union’s executive board awkwardly at odds with the California IATSE Council, a coalition of 18 local unions in the state, which is sponsoring the bill. When asked for comment, a California IATSE Council representative referred THR to the Entertainment Union Coalition’s statement on Wednesday, after the proposed legislation advanced through the state Senate’s labor committee. In his remarks, EUC president Thom Davis noted that member unions worked closely with Sen. Cortese to hone the bill and added that “The safety advisory/risk assessment has always been our goal.”
Despite this show of opposition, SB 735 still has a good shot of getting to the governor’s desk. After the MPA and various industry unions reached a tentative deal on the language of the bill earlier this month and it passed the labor committee on Wednesday, it will make its way to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The MPA has remained neutral on the bill, with vp of state government affairs Melissa Patack stating in the committee hearing on Wednesday that “there are still some issues that need to be addressed, and we look forward to continuing this collaborative effort.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on April 14, Cortese called the bill’s chances “excellent” and said that the governor’s office had “expressed no objections” to the proposal.
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