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A line producer on Rust was named in a previous unfair labor practices settlement, parts of which mirror treatment that crew have said they experienced on the New Mexico set of the Alec Baldwin indie Western before that production shut down on Oct. 21.
In October of 2018, crewmembers on the set of the low-budget Atlanta production Keys to the City grew concerned about safety and began trying to flip their set from nonunion to union. The production’s two line producers, one of whom is Gabrielle Pickle, the line producer named on the call sheet for Rust, began interrogating the seven-person camera crew that had been a part of the push. Pickle ultimately fired the camera crew “because they signed union authorization cards,” violating the National Labor Relations Act, according to a 2019 settlement agreement reached between IATSE and the production company, Tier 2 Films.
Pickle also called police in an attempt to get union members arrested when they picketed on a public sidewalk, according to a source with knowledge of the production. In the settlement agreement, the NLRB characterized Pickle’s calling of law enforcement on union members as “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in [the National Labor Relations Act].”
On the Rust set on Oct. 21, the day Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while rehearsing a gunfight scene, producers on that film also called police on union crew who had returned after walking off the set in frustration, according to a person with knowledge of the production.
On the Keys to the City set, the camera crew expressed concern about safety issues, including that they were asked to suspend an 80-pound camera over an actress’s head without using safety cables to protect her, and that they were being forced to move too quickly to guard against accidents. Leadership on that movie dismissed those concerns, according to a person familiar with the case, which is what prompted the camera crew to seek to flip the set, turning it more than 51 percent union and requiring the implementation of union rules. After Pickle fired the camera crew, the union drive failed.
IATSE brought a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, and the production company had to pay the fired camera crew members — Robbie Corcoran, Josh Looby, Brian Murie, Ken Scofield, Benjamin Truitt, William Vinci and Walker Whited — for the days they would have worked.
A spokesperson for IATSE confirmed the accuracy of the settlement agreement but declined to comment on the specifics of the case, or about labor practices on Rust.
“Historically, there is a disturbing trend where the bosses willing to engage in illegal union-busting also tend to be more likely to be willing to cut corners on safety,” says Jonas Loeb, IATSE director of communications. “This is nothing new, and is exemplified by the horrific 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which killed 146 garment workers because factory foremen locked the exit doors to keep out union organizers.”
Pickle, who is a member of the Producers Guild of America according to her bio on the website of a company called 3rd Shift Media, is also the listed line producer on SuperCell, another movie Baldwin made with some of the Rust producers (Emily Hunter Salveson, Ryan Donnell Smith and Ryan Winterstern), which shot in Montana in the spring.
The Rust producers have hired the law firm Jenner & Block to conduct an investigation into the fatal Oct. 21 incident and issued a statement that, “We have halted production on the film for an undetermined period of time and are fully cooperating with all investigations and inquiries.”
During a press conference on Wednesday, Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said, “If the facts and evidence and law support charges, then I will initiate prosecution at that time. … I cannot stress the importance of allowing the Santa Fe sheriff’s office to continue with their investigation, which is both serious and complex.”
Pickle did not respond to a request for comment. She had been posting photos from the Rust set on her social media accounts, including an exterior shot of cast and crew with horses on Oct. 8 captioned “Safety meeting — it’s stunts day in 1880.”
Katie Kilkenny contributed to this report.
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