LOS ANGELES – You can say that the people behind the cameras have found their voice.
Late Saturday night, a union representing Hollywood’s version of blue-collar workers — camera operators, makeup artists, prop producers, set dressers, lighting technicians, editors, script coordinators, hairstylists, cinematographers, writers’ assistants — was a A tentative agreement was reached for the new three. year contracts with film and television studios, according to officials on both sides.
The union, IATSE, which stands for International Alliance of Natya Manch Employees, had said that its members would go on strike from Monday, a move that would result in the shutdown of production at times particularly inappropriate for the entertainment industry.
Studios, which include giants like Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia and rebels like Amazon, Apple and Netflix, are scrambling to make up for lost production time during the coronavirus pandemic. Another shutdown would have left the content wardrobe dangerously bare — especially on streaming services, a business that has become crucial to the standing of some companies on Wall Street.
The IATSE negotiators agreed to a deal after winning concessions on several fronts.
The crew will now get at least 54 hours of rest over the weekend – on par, with the actors for the first time. (The studio previously did not require employees to give weekend rest time, although they were required to pay overtime.) Crew would also get a minimum of 10 hours of rest between the need to leave a set and return, which IATSE defined as the rest. Time was considered necessary. For personal health, especially since shooting can regularly last up to 18 hours. The proposed contract also includes wage increases and a commitment by companies to meet a $400 million shortfall in IATSE pension and health plans without charging premiums or increasing the cost of health coverage.
The studio would eventually also give employees an extra day off in recognition of the birthday of Martin Luther King, which has been a federal holiday since 1983.
“We went toe-to-toe with some of the world’s richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies,” IATSE President Matthew Loeb said in a statement. Called the agreement “the end of Hollywood” for the union.
A spokesman for the studio, Jarid Gonzales, confirmed the deal, but did not immediately comment.
IATSE has 150,000 members in the United States and Canada. The contract in dispute, however, covered only 60,000 with the majority in the Los Angeles area, followed by pockets of workers in production-hub states such as Georgia and New Mexico. A large proportion of the union’s remaining 90,000 members work in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But he has a separate contract that did not expire.
Nevertheless, solidarity within the IATSE was remarkable, with members in New York making it clear on Twitter and Instagram that, if a partial strike is called, they will consider it a complete one. For their part, 60,000 members with expired contracts voted to authorize the strike two weeks ago – by a 99 percent margin.
Crews have long been underrepresented in Hollywood, where hierarchies are not subtle. The discontent became more apparent when the crew returned to set after the pandemic stopped. As with workers in many occupations, down time gave employees a new perspective about work-life balance. Making the situation worse, studios and streaming services began ramping up content assembly lines to make up for lost time.
Anger raged over the summer when Ben Gottlieb, a young lighting technician in Brooklyn, started an Instagram page dedicated to work-related horror stories. So far more than 1,100 entertainment workers have posted sad anecdotes on the page, which has 159,000 followers.
Throughout the negotiations that began in May, the Hollywood companies insisted that it was taking IATSE’s demands seriously and negotiating in good faith. An organization called the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers negotiates union contracts for studios. The organization has been led by Carol Lombardini since 2009 and no entertainment association has gone on a national strike during her tenure. They have worked since the inception of the group in 1982.
But several studio executives privately congratulated IATSE’s aggressive negotiating stance with a shoulder, noting that the union had never held a significant strike in its 128-year history. The parties represented by any union had not walked on a picket line since World War II. At the time, IATSE was controlled by the Chicago Mafia, which was bribed by the studio to quell labor unrest. (The crews who went on strike in 1945 were part of a now-defunct convention of studio unions.)
Adding to the studio’s belief that IATSE will blink in current negotiations: the crew’s staff had endured the financial hardship of pandemic-related production shutdowns, and IATSE does not have a strike fund.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that alarm bells started ringing in Hollywood’s corporate ranks. That’s when Mr Loeb said in a statement that “the pace of the bargain does not reflect any urgency” and set Monday as the date for the strike. IATSE’s ominous comments were followed on Thursday. “If studios want a fight, they just caught the wrong bear,” Union said on Twitter. Another Union Post quoted JRR Tolkien: “War must happen while we defend our lives against a Destroyer who will devour everything.”
The studio insisted on curtailing IATSE’s profit for several reasons. Production costs have already increased due to coronavirus safeguards, and longer rest periods and higher wages risk profitability even more. Producers say the costs associated with Covid-19 safety protocols can push up a project’s budget by as much as 20 per cent.
To woo the subscribers, streaming services are offering exorbitant payouts to A-list actors, directors and producers. This means looking for cost savings in other areas, including crew, or what is known as bottom labor in the entertainment industry.
And companies were concerned about reparations: The contractual benefits noted by the employees would inevitably encourage other unions. The Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America and the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, are all approaching contract negotiations with streaming at the center.