Hollywood backstage workers strike deal, avoid strike


LOS ANGELES – You could say the people behind the cameras have found their voices.

Late Saturday, a union representing the Hollywood version of blue-collar workers – cameramen, makeup artists, props, decorators, lighting designers, editors, script coordinators, hairdressers, cinematographers, writers’ assistants – reached a tentative agreement for three new one-year contract with film and television studios, according to officials from both sides.

The IATSE union, which represents the International Alliance of Theatrical Employees, had said its members would go on strike from Monday, a move that would have resulted in a shutdown of production at a particularly inopportune time for the industry. entertainment.

The studios, which include mainstays like Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia and insurgents like Amazon, Apple and Netflix, have been working to make up for production time lost during the coronavirus pandemic. Another shutdown would have left the cabinets of content dangerously empty – especially in streaming services, a business that has become crucial to the reputations of some companies on Wall Street.

IATSE negotiators reached a deal after securing concessions on several fronts.

Teams will now have a minimum of 54 hours of rest on weekends – tied, for the first time, with the actors. (Previously, studios were not required to give crews rest time on weekends, although they were required to pay overtime.) Crews will also be given a minimum of 10 hours rest between departure. ‘a plateau and the return, which IATSE had deemed essential. to personal health, especially since filming can last up to 18 hours. The proposed contract also includes salary increases and a commitment by companies to fund a $ 400 million deficit in the IATSE’s pension and health plan without imposing premiums or increasing the cost of health coverage.

The studios will also give teams an extra day off by finally recognizing Martin Luther King’s birthday, which has been a federal holiday since 1983.

“We took on some of the richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies in the world,” Matthew Loeb, president of IATSE, said in a statement, calling the deal “Hollywood’s end” for the union. .

A spokesperson for the studios, Jarryd Gonzales, confirmed the deal but made no immediate comment.

IATSE has 150,000 members in the United States and Canada. The contending contract, however, only covered about 60,000 people, the majority of which in the Los Angeles area, followed by pockets of workers in hub production states like Georgia and New Mexico. Many of the union’s remaining 90,000 members work in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But they have a different contract that hasn’t expired.

Still, the solidarity within IATSE was remarkable, with members in New York making it clear on Twitter and Instagram that if a partial strike were called they would treat it as a full strike. For their part, the 60,000 members whose contracts have expired voted two weeks ago – with a margin of 99% – to authorize a strike.

Crews have long felt underrated in Hollywood, where hierarchies aren’t subtle. The discontent became more palpable when crews returned to the sets after the pandemic stopped. As with workers in many occupations, the downtime had given teams a new perspective on work-life balance. To make matters worse, studios and streaming services have started to speed up content assembly lines to make up for lost time.

Anger turned to rage over the summer when Ben Gottlieb, a young lighting designer from Brooklyn, launched an Instagram page dedicated to work-related horror stories. More than 1,100 entertainment workers have since posted poignant anecdotes on the page, which has 159,000 subscribers.

Throughout the negotiations, which began in May, Hollywood companies have insisted they take IATSE’s demands seriously and negotiate in good faith. An organization called the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers negotiates union contracts for the studios. The organization has been led by Carol Lombardini since 2009 and no entertainment-related union has called a nationwide strike under her tenure. She has worked for the group since its creation in 1982.

But many studio executives privately greeted the IATSE’s aggressive negotiating stance with a shrug, noting that the union had never staged a meaningful strike in its 128-year history. Teams represented by a union had not walked a picket line since World War II. At the time, the IATSE was controlled by the Chicago Mafia, which the studios bribed to thwart social unrest. (The teams that went on strike in 1945 were part of the now defunct Studio Conference of Unions.)

Boosting studio confidence that IATSE would blink in the ongoing negotiations: team workers had just suffered financial hardship from a pandemic-related production shutdown, and IATSE has no strike fund.

Alarm bells didn’t start ringing in Hollywood corporate ranks until Wednesday. It was then that Mr. Loeb said in a statement that “the pace of negotiations does not reflect any sense of urgency” and set Monday as the strike date. Disturbing comments from IATSE followed Thursday. “If the studios want to fight, they’ve got it wrong,” the union said on Twitter. Another union post quoted JRR Tolkien: “The war must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour everything.”

The studios pushed to minimize the IATSE’s earnings for several reasons. Production costs have already skyrocketed due to coronavirus safety measures, and longer rest periods and higher wages put profitability even more at risk. Costs associated with Covid-19 security protocols can increase a project’s budget by up to 20%, according to producers.

To attract subscribers, streaming services offer exorbitant salaries to leading actors, directors and producers. This means looking for cost savings in other areas, including teams, or what in the entertainment industry is called the below-the-line workforce.

And companies worried about the repercussions: the crew’s significant contractual gains will inevitably embolden other unions. The Writers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America, and Actors Union SAG-AFTRA all have contract negotiations coming up, with streaming at their center.


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