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The new, tentative three-year film and TV deal agreed upon between the studios and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union representing below-the-line entertainment workers, still has to be ratified by union members. But as IATSE rank-and-file go over the fine print, their colleagues outside the U.S. are already drawing inspiration from the deal reached in 11th-hour negotiations over the weekend.
With major labor negotiations heating up in the U.K., where below-the-line workers union Bectu is hammering out a new TV deal with British producers trade organization Pact, and in Germany, as the main actors’ union BFFS finalizes details of an overall agreement with the Produzentenallianz representing the country’s largest film and TV producers, the IATSE deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is being seen “as a real leap forward … it’s an inspiring moment for many unions [outside America] in what is a very difficult freelance labor market,” says Johannes Studinger, head of the media and entertainment sector of UNI Global Union, a Swiss-based umbrella group that represents more than 20 million workers from over 150 different countries in services sectors including the film and TV industries.
“Many of the issues they addressed are the same shared across the world. The unions in Europe and in other regions have been looking very closely at the talks and I think they have been inspired, by the solidarity and the resolve of the [IATSE] union members,” Studinger adds.
In response to the news of Sunday’s IATSE deal, Bectu head Philippa Childs tweeted: “Congratulations to @IATSE for holding firm and negotiating hard,” adding “#IASolidarity #UnionStrong.”
Bectu was keen to associate itself with IATSE during the U.S. negotiations, telling its U.K. members to “do nothing to undermine the IATSE action” and to turn down work if, in the event of a strike, they are offered to replace a striking IATSE member on a job.
But beyond the rhetoric of worker solidarity, it is unclear what impact the IATSE deal — assuming it is ratified — will have on union action overseas. The American film and television unions are the largest and most powerful in the entertainment industry, reflecting the size and global dominance of Hollywood. Their counterparts in most countries have far less influence and leverage over their employers, many of whom are the same Hollywood studios and streamers IATSE leadership negotiated with for its deal.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’ll have any impact in the UK, because people need to work,” one British producer said when asked about the IATSE deal. U.K. entertainment unions are “nowhere near as strong” as they are in the U.S., this producer added.
In Germany, actors union the BFFS has joined forces with ver.di, the country’s largest union, representing workers across all service industries, to demand better working conditions for on-screen talent. Many of the demands, which were hammered out over a five-month negotiation period earlier this year, reflect concerns over long hours and limited turn-around time between shifts, concerns that were at the center of the IATSE negotiations. For example, the German deal requires actors have a minimum of two consecutive free days two times a month for shoots of 40 days or less and three times a month for shoots of more than 40 days. The IATSE deal requires a minimum 54-hour turnaround on weekends for shoots with five-day work weeks. The German agreement has a “48 plus 11 hours” requirement for Friday night shoots, meaning actors cannot be forced to work through the weekend.
But the toughest part of the German negotiations, over scale wages, are still ongoing. It remains to be seen how effective the local unions will be in wrangling real concessions from the producers association.
In other countries, union power within the entertainment industry, aside from productions run by IATSE-led crews internationally, is close to non-existent.
“I work in Asia where there are no unions per se, outside of New Zealand and Australia and to a minimal extent in Japan,” says Nicholas Simon, producer and founder of Indochina Productions, a pan-Asian production service company currently shooting Gareth Edwards’ forthcoming True Love in Thailand.
But, Simon notes, if the IATSE is perceived as “winning” in its battle with the studios, it could “empower crews worldwide to hold the streamers and their producers/production companies to task” and demand similar conditions on international shoots.
“There is a recognition that this is more and more a global industry with global employers and that issues need to be addressed in a more coordinated way with these multinational employers,” notes Studinger of UNI Global Union. “I don’t have a crystal ball but in my experience working for the global union movement in the entertainment industry, what I have seen is that over the last five years is that cooperation between unions, between my colleagues in the U.S., in Europe, in Latin America, in Asia, has increased tremendously. The unions are stronger, better organized, and have more resources to work together to address the issues that affect all of us.”
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