IATSE Deal Could Be Rejected by Members: ‘Our Leadership Let Us Down’

·4 min read

Many members of IATSE say they will vote against ratifying a new contract with the major studios because it does not do enough to address working conditions on set.

The deal, announced Saturday afternoon, averts a strike that would have shut down film and TV production nationwide starting on Monday morning. But in interviews and online chatter, many workers have expressed frustration with the terms and said they expect it will be rejected.

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“Basically nothing has changed,” said Ernesto Lomeli, a director of photography based in Los Angeles. “I have not heard a single person saying they will vote yes.”

A ratification vote will likely not be held for several weeks, as lawyers will have to translate the deal points into contract language. In the meantime, work will proceed as normal on film and TV sets.

The tentative agreement provides a 54-hour weekend and 10-hour turnaround time between shifts for all workers on all productions. Some were hoping for more than 10 hours, as well as other wage and residual provisions that are not in the deal. But they also wanted to make a broader point about conditions on set, which many find to be inhumane and unsustainable.

“We wanted to send a message that things needed to actually change,” said Rowan Byers, a dolly grip in IATSE Local 80. “The 10-hour turnarounds — that’s the same shit that’s already in my contract. Why would I be excited about that?”

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees represents 60,000 TV and film production workers across the country, including hair stylists, electricians, propmakers, cinematographers and editors. The union leadership hailed the deal as a “landmark” agreement on Saturday.

Some of the details have not been officially released, and many members contacted Sunday said they would wait for more information before offering an opinion. But others said that they’ve been underwhelmed by what they’ve seen so far.

“Overall, it’s very disheartening,” said Theodore Rysz, a gaffer in Local 728. “I do think it will be rejected.”

The membership rallied for an unprecedented strike authorization vote earlier this month, which passed with nearly 99 percent support. That vote became part of a broader narrative of labor unrest this fall, along with strikes at Kellogg and John Deere. Some believe that by not using the authorization, IATSE leadership squandered a historic opportunity.

“This is the one time we as organized labor in Hollywood had the ability to take a stance and make a change,” Rysz said. “We had the potential to shut down production. In general, I feel like our leadership has let us down again.”

For many outside the union who would have been affected by a strike, the deal was met with relief. But some IATSE members had been looking forward to picketing outside major studios, which would have drawn nationwide media attention to issues like 14-hour workdays on film sets.

“For years we’ve normalized and internalized all these abusive situations,” said Anne Fader, an assistant production accountant in New Orleans. “I almost feel like crew members need a strike to let out all this frustration.”

Daniel Remillard, an electrician based in New Mexico, said he had not yet decided how he would vote, and that he is more open-minded about the agreement than many of his colleagues are.

“We got a lot of what we asked for and compromised very little,” he said. “Our initial ask was probably too low. But I disagree that this was a failure. I think this was a successful round. I’m very much in the minority here. Most of the people are saying this is garbage.”

Members have been trashing the deal on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, while few if any voices have spoken up in favor of the agreement. Part of that, Remillard said, is due to the fever pitch of the last few days.

“I think emotions are high right now,” he said. “On Friday, we cleared stages. We said our goodbyes. We shook hands, like, ‘See you guys in the brave new world.’ Now it’s, ‘See you Monday.'”

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