Members of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees begin voting Friday on a strike authorization that could enable union leadership to call some 52,000 “below the line” workers off the job and potentially shut down many Hollywood film and television productions.
The vote, which Variety said is expected to pass by an overwhelming margin, would give the union’s international president, Matthew D. Loeb, authority to call a strike as the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers continue to wrangle over a range of issues relating primarily to work conditions but also to revenue growing out of streaming and other “new media.”
Ballots are due to be returned by 9 p.m. Sunday, and results are expected to be announced Monday.
Authorization would not automatically mean a strike would occur — only that Loeb would have the authority to call a walkoff if talks fail to move toward a resolution.
The contract talks involve 13 Hollywood local unions.
Union members include production and department coordinators, writers’ assistants, cinematographers, costumers, grips, script supervisors, technicians, designers and more.
The union is fighting for better working conditions, including “reasonable rest” between shifts, which can run 14 hours or longer.
According to the union, the AMPTP “has failed to work with us on addressing the most grievous problems in their workplaces.”
Among the issues, according to the union’s website, are:
— “Excessively unsafe and harmful working hours”;
— “Unlivable wages for the lowest-paid crafts”;
— “Consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays and on weekends”; and
— “Workers on certain `new media’ streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.”
“After months of negotiating successor contracts to the Producer-IATSE Basic Agreement and the Theatrical and Television Motion Picture Area Standards Agreement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) has not made any counteroffer to the IATSE’s most recent proposal,” the union reported on it website.
“In response to the AMPTP’s tactics, a nationwide strike authorization vote for members under these two agreements is underway, and eligible members are strongly encouraged to #VoteYES on Authorizing a Strike.”
The AMPTP issued a statement Sept. 23, which said that talks between the two sides had broken down and that negotiations were suspended Sept. 3, “just days after they began.”
“At that time, both parties agreed they would continue negotiations on the Area Standards Agreement some time after the Hollywood IATSE Basic Agreement bargaining resumed on Sept. 9. The AMPTP made moves just before the parties agreed to recess. The IATSE has yet to respond,” the statement said.
“It is unfortunate the IATSE has gone down the path of publishing false information about the negotiations. This approach unnecessarily polarizes the bargaining parties and elevates tensions at a time when we should be focused on finding ways to avoid a strike. A strike will have a devastating impact on the industry and inevitably will result in thousands of IATSE members losing their income, failing to qualify for health insurance benefits, jeopardizing funding for the pension plan and disrupting production.”
The statement concluded by claiming, “The Producers are committed to reaching an agreement at the bargaining table that balances the needs of both parties and will keep the industry working.”
On Thursday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and Sen. Alex Padilla joined with 118 U.S. senators and House members in sending a letter to the AMPTP, urging the association to negotiate collaboratively and in good faith.
The letter called the union workers “the engines of the entertainment industry and creative arts” and added they have played “an essential role in keeping film and television productions running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, often at risk to their own health, safety and well-being.”
“The key issues in this negotiation, as we’ve come to understand them, are about worker dignity and basic human necessities,” the letter said. “We are unified in our belief in the importance of living wages, sustainable benefits and reasonable rest periods between shifts and during the workday.
“We ask that the AMPTP negotiate collaboratively with these workers to reach a fair contract and address the basic human needs that will allow them to do their jobs safely and with dignity.”
The letter followed a Tuesday action by the Los Angeles City Council, in which four council members introduced a motion urging the AMPTP and the union representing skilled crew and craftspeople to bargain in good faith and come to an agreement.
“Workers have risked their health and safety for the last year and a half, working through the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the motion picture and television production industry emerged intact and who have worked day and night to return production to pre-pandemic levels,” the resolution said.
The resolution was introduced by Council President Nury Martinez, Councilwoman Nithya Raman and councilmen Kevin de León and Mitch O’Farrell. It was seconded by Councilman Bob Blumenfield.
The council members added that the working conditions sought by the union are similar to the conditions that studios afford in Canada and Europe.
“If IATSE and AMPTP cannot come to an agreement and IATSE calls for a strike authorization vote of their members, that a strike would risk shutting down California state film and television production,” the resolution said.
“The strike would impact not only all of the 13 IATSE Hollywood Locals, but also locals across the state that together represent 52,000 working women and men who live in our state.”
The resolution called on the parties to bargain in good faith and come to an agreement that addresses safety concerns, but a vote was not immediately scheduled.