Months into the combined writers and actors strikes, at a time of spiking food insecurity in Hollywood, hundreds of volunteer crewmembers distributed food, as well as household and personal care items, to peers at the Motion Picture & Television Fund campus in Woodland Hills on Thursday.
The drive-through food distribution event served about 1,000 households of Hollywood workers who have been financially impacted by the strike, according to an estimate provided by MPTF on Thursday. Organized by crew unions IATSE and the Teamsters Local 399 as well as MPTF, Labor Community Services, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and Matthew 25 Ministries, it was the crew unions’ second such food drive in two months: In July, not long after SAG-AFTRA joined the Writers Guild of America on strike, IATSE and Local 399 hosted a similar food drive at the former union’s West Coast headquarters in Burbank, distributing 1,740 food boxes and feeding an estimated 8,700 people. Another food drive is being planned for the 2023 holiday season, whether the strikes end by then or not, given that leaders at entertainment-focused nonprofits expect a long tail of need after the current strikes are finally resolved.
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“I’m imploring our industry leaders and our studio heads to find a way to make the deals, to get us back to work, because this is the ancillary damage,” said IATSE vp and director of the motion picture and TV department Mike Miller as he surveyed the line of tents set up to provide supplies to vehicles driving through. According to Miller, IATSE is down 30 million hours of employment since May 2, when the first strike — the writers’ work stoppage — began. That amounts to $1.5 billion in lost wages and $300 million in lost benefits to crewmembers like key grips, lighting technicians and costume designers.
Added MPTF president and CEO Bob Beitcher, “This is not what our industry is about. There is no one who wants to be in this line getting food and supplies. We have a lot of proud, hardworking members of our industry, and this is the last thing they want to be doing.” Beitcher says that MPTF social workers who are processing calls for aid have graded about 90 percent of recent requests as being at a level of “high acuity” — in other words, “you can’t pay your rent, you can’t pay your mortgage, you can’t make your car payment,” said Beitcher.
So many union members sought to volunteer at Thursday’s event that organizers had to set a cutoff number of 250, according to Miller. One of those union members helping out on Thursday was Alison Taylor, a trustee of the executive board for Teamsters Local 399 and a location manager on projects like They Cloned Tyrone and Insecure. Taylor has been out of work since April and says she has blown through her emergency savings in that time. “Every day, I wake up and I have a choice to either be just angry about it or to remain positive,” she said. “And I remain positive because I understand the bigger picture of solidarity and people coming together. And I understand the history of the labor movement.” Still, she noted, this period has been “painful.”
Another volunteer conveying optimism was Ashlin Santana, a Local 399 DOT admin (Shrinking) who was volunteering at the front of the food drive line. A third-generation Teamster, Santana also has many relatives that belong to the union — five out of six of her family members are currently out of work because they are Teamsters in the industry. “We’re making do,” she says. “It’s nice we can spend more time together, but at the same time it’s like, yeah, I’d rather be working.”
In addition to distributing some of the same goods that crew unions provided during their July 28 food drive — canned and boxed food, produce and personal care items including diapers and soap — on Thursday the organizers partnered with L.A. Regional Food Bank to offer additional meat, produce and dry goods. Samuel Goldwyn Films president Peter Goldwyn, meanwhile, donated $10,000 worth of diapers because he heard industry families could really use them, Beitcher said.
On Thursday, volunteers and organizers said they were seeing Hollywood workers carpooling to the food drive to save on gas expenses and families worried about back-to-school costs for children. Many driving through were forced to make hard choices between various essential expenses, said Labor Community Services’ executive director Armando Olivas: “They’re thanking us for being here and giving them the food that they need so they can buy children items that they need or medicine for themselves,” he said.
Volunteer Duke Foster, a 30-year transportation coordinator (NCIS: Los Angeles), saw multiple people he’d worked with over the years coming to the food drive over the course of the day. Overall, he said he felt hopeful that the strikes would end soon. Studios “don’t sell cars, they sell movies, they sell TV shows,” he noted. “And at some point, I don’t care how much inventory they claim to have, your advertisers don’t want to pay premium dollars for some reruns or some shows that never made it in the first place.”
Beitcher, whose MPTF serves as one of the major safety nets for industry workers, was a little more circumspect about the end date of the strikes. (On Thursday, as the event was in progress, the Writers Guild of America said in a statement that a recent counteroffer from studios was “neither nothing, nor nearly enough”; SAG-AFTRA has yet to return to the bargaining table since it went on strike July 14.) “By nature, I’m an optimistic person, but I don’t see a lot of evidence out there to feed that optimism,” he said.
Beitcher was focused, he said, on calling for industry leaders to work out a resolution to the current bargaining impasses that are deeply impacting the entertainment workforce. Of the crewmembers present at Thursday’s event, both as volunteers and recipients of items, Beitcher said, “This is the backbone of our industry. These are the folks first on the set, the last to leave. They build the sets, they paint the sets, they shoot the sets, they decorate the sets, design the sets, they provide transportation to locations. Production doesn’t go on without these people, and they’re among the lowest paid in the industry, and they’re just not set up for three or six months of no income.”
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