Commercial Trade Group Tells Producers: TV Union Drive Uses “False Messaging”

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Nearly a week after commercial production workers publicly launched a unionization effort, the president and CEO of the trade organization that negotiates with labor groups in the field has taken aim at the effort, arguing that its recent communications use “false messaging,” “exaggerated examples,” and are “designed to apply pressure” to freelancers to participate.

In a letter sent to members of the members of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) on Wednesday and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, CEO Matt Miller asserts that the “AICP strongly believes that a unionization effort among freelance production employees will harm those individuals it claims it will help.” Miller adds, “It falsely paints the entire industry with a broad brush and is not helpful to an open and honest discussion about our industry, its work, and the challenges all of us face.”

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On July 21, a grassroots group called Stand With Production went public with its effort to unionize roles within production departments on TV commercials with entertainment crew labor giant IATSE. Ultimately aiming to form a national union and seek voluntary recognition from the AICP, the group is looking to include production assistants, assistant production supervisors, production supervisors, line producers and bidding producers in a bargaining unit.

The AICP, however, is already taking a tough stance toward the attempt, suggesting a battle may be at hand. In Wednesday’s memo, Miller outlines “areas of concern” regarding the unionization effort, including his projections that the Stand With Production effort could result in the eradication of jobs and income for these workers and “currently represented IATSE crew,” runaway production to other countries and “work rules agreements and overly restrictive jurisdictional boundaries.”

The letter additionally touts the AICP’s Producers’ Health Benefits Plan (PHBP), an employer-funded health insurance plan for particular non-union freelance commercial workers. Miller describes the PHBP as a “Cadillac” plan and suggests that, if workers adopted a union health plan instead, “in many instances, it would take longer to qualify for the IATSE benefits and requalification milestones that must be met twice as frequently as PHBP.” Miller further asserts that “the IATSE coverage period is half the duration (six months) of the PHBP coverage period (12 months)” and that the IATSE’s health plan does not provide long or short-term disability coverage at no cost to the worker like PHBP does.

One of reasons Stand With Production supporters are seeking union representation is that they contend qualification requirements for PHBP are steep. The group has also stated that they would like to improve turnaround times and rest periods, institute safety training, increase standard wage rates for their positions and establish diversity and inclusion and mentorship and training programs.

In a statement about the AICP’s letter, IATSE director of communications Jonas Loeb said, “Workers deserve to exercise their freedom of association and have a say in their workplaces without threats or fear of retaliation. It’s unfortunate but laughably predictable to see the same cookie cutter union-busting talking points we’ve seen for decades. The workers ARE the union.”

The letter does concede that “one of the driving factors behind this unionization effort is the increased demands by marketers and agencies to compress production schedules and make production work on their terms, whether because of pressured timelines or attempts at curtailing budgets.” However, Miller says the solution is not unionization but “practical and effective solutions” reached by multiple stakeholders.

Miller concludes that unionization could hurt “hurt our valued freelance production employees financially, force productions to non-union shops, chase U.S. production to foreign shores, and curtail the decision-making authority that freelance production employees currently enjoy.”

July 28, 5 p.m. Updated with IATSE’s statement.

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