Hollywood preps for Teamsters walkout

Exec: 'Could be worse than the writers strike'

Television would be hit hardest.

That's the consensus among industryites prepping for a possible strike by Hollywood transportation workers should the Teamsters fail to secure a new pact before its current agreement expires Aug. 1. Upward of 20 shows are in production ahead of the fall television season.

"If it were to happen, it would be hugely unfortunate," said Ed Bernero, executive producer on the CBS series "Criminal Minds." "I really can't speculate on what I might do if it happened, but unions are very important to me. So it would be a very difficult decision for me."

It's possible the Teamsters would agree to work under a contract extension even if their pact expires without a new agreement in place, but the union's Hollywood Local 399 is expected to take a strike-authorization vote during a general membership meeting set for 8 a.m. Sunday in Burbank. That would arm Local leaders with the ability to walk at any point after the midnight expiration of the Local's current "Black Book" agreement a week from Saturday; even the prospect of a strike has production execs puzzling over ways of getting actors and others on and off their lots without crossing picket lines.

The transportation union's talks with Hollywood studios involve proposals for a new two- or three-year contract but have hit an impasse over money terms. The Teamsters want annual raises of 3%; management is offering 2% yearly boosts. The studios would prefer a three-year deal but are offering two years at the union's request, which would allow the Teamsters to synch up their contract expiration with IATSE's. That, in turn, would give the Teamsters more input into contract matters affecting the pension and health plan that covers members of both unions.

Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers president Carol Lombardini and Teamsters attorney Joe Kaplan remain in touch this week ahead of the next formal bargaining session, set for 10 a.m. Friday at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks, and another session could be scheduled for next week. An additional session would seem only natural, as a successful strike-authorization vote would enhance the union's hand at the bargaining table, and management appears inclined to agree to continued talks.

The contract negotiations started June 14, and the parties' failure to agree on terms has prompted handicapping around town of the chances of a Teamsters strike.

"I would be surprised if there were a strike, but there are some other people here who disagree with me," an exec on one lot said. "The water-cooler talk is that if there is a strike, it won't be pretty -- not necessarily in terms of length or financial impact, but in terms of tone, this could be worse than the writers strike."

The 100-day WGA strike of 2007-08 had TV networks scrambling to fill programming grids with extra reality fare after the scripted well ran dry. There was no immediate evidence of those sorts of contingencies, but some disruptions of film and TV productions are inevitable if the Teamsters go out.

"Like all writers, I'm grateful for the solidarity the Teamsters showed us during the WGA strike," said Matthew Weiner, creator and exec producer of AMC's "Mad Men." "I think they know they can count on me to support them in any way I can."

On-location shoots are particularly vulnerable to disruption, but projects are being pushed forward. FilmLA marked a modest uptick in permit requests last week -- to 228, compared with 222 the same week last year -- with permits generally sought two to four weeks in advance of a production start.

At least a dozen movies are listed for lensing in August, and some -- such as New Line comedy "Horrible Bosses" -- already are shooting on location in the L.A. area.

Even execs with productions housed in soundstages have to figure out how to get actors on and off of lots. Studio execs are reviewing infrastructure maps to identify discreet entrances less likely to draw pickets.

"If there's a strike, they will be mostly interested in making a media statement and may not go everywhere," a studio insider said.

At least one studio also was identifying possible off-lot locations for TV shoots.

Some lot disruptions would fall into the category of annoying inconvenience. For instance, studio commissaries' daily shipments of food and beverages could be halted if delivery drivers honor the union's pickets, and creative means of obtaining office supplies might become necessary.

Other Hollywood guilds are prohibited from staging sympathy strikes. But SAG or others could make statements suggesting members follow their consciences in deciding whether to report to work.

"We'll honor our contracts and support our union brothers and sisters as much as possible," one actor observed this week.

Hollywood Teamsters worked more than two months after the expiration of its contract with studios in 1988 before mounting a 25-day work stoppage, the Local's last full-fledged strike.

If a new strike breaks out, studios also can be expected to boost lot security and may hire some new staff where necessary to replace workers refusing to cross picket lines.