IATSE on the Move in Reality and CGI

Union presses campaign to organize "Biggest Loser"; also seeks to expand jurisdiction in visual effects.

While Hollywood’s above-the-line unions have been busy negotiating their deals at the AMPTP boardroom in Sherman Oaks, IATSE has been taking it to the streets.

In reality television, the IA is seeking to organize NBC’s The Biggest Loser. As previously reported, the 50-member crew walked off the job Wednesday. Picket lines have continued since then.

A larger action is expected Monday, when production will reportedly resume with replacement workers.

Various sources have confirmed to THR that the primary issue for the union is pension and health coverage. “It’s a sad situation,” Loser DP Vanessa Holtgrewe told THR. “Everybody wants to get back to work.” She described the situation as “surreal.”

Meanwhile, IATSE is also interested in a very different form of surreality – the type created by visual effects artists, few if any of whom are unionized. The union has reportedly hired an organizer and assigned three other business reps to unionize those workers across the industry.

The VFX endeavor is likely to be a difficult one. The ease of moving digital files across the country and around the world makes the business enormously competitive. That international price pressure, and the cost of constantly updating computer hardware and developing new software, means that VFX companies are likely to resist any moves that raises costs even incrementally, including increases in wage or benefit costs.

In addition, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is reportedly also attempting to organize VFX artists. A jurisdictional conflict between IATSE and IBEW would complicate both unions’ efforts.

SAG attempted to obtain jurisdiction over a different aspect of visual effects, namely performance capture, but was unable to do so in its latest negotiations.

Another major pool of non-unionized below-the-line workers are composers and lyricists. In contrast, musicians and singers are already represented, the former by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and the latter by SAG and AFTRA. The Teamsters have been attempting to organize composers and lyricists, but with little apparent traction so far.