IATSE Members Say They’re Ready to Shut Down Hollywood With a Strike – Pandemic or Not

·5 min read

The reality of an imminent labor strike in Hollywood is beginning to sink in — one that could halt film and TV production in the U.S. and Canada just as it has resumed following a long pandemic-fueled shutdown. As an authorization vote looms next weekend among the 13 West Coast locals International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, below-the-line workers in the guild say they’re feeling a sense of unity.

According to multiple IATSE members, the mood among membership overwhelming backs authorizing a strike — giving the guild more leverage in negotiations with film and TV producers over a three-year bargaining agreement that have dragged on since May. “In the past when there’s been talks about a strike, there was a lot of debate online between members about whether to do it,” one member of IATSE Local 700, which represents editors, told TheWrap. “This year, I’d say about 99% of the talks I’ve been a part of support a strike authorization.”

The stoppage might not just be confined to Hollywood. This week, IATSE also announced plans to hold a strike authorization vote for the 23 locals representing film and TV workers on sets outside Los Angeles. While the 13 West Coast locals operate under the Hollywood Basic Agreement, the 23 nationwide locals operate under a separate contract called the Area Standards Agreement, which also saw talks break off between IATSE and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). IATSE represents more than 150,000 entertainment workers in the U.S. and Canada, including editors, cinematographers, hair and makeup artists, production designers and costumers.

If the authorization passes, it does not necessarily mean that there will be a strike. IATSE’s negotiating committee is expected to return to the negotiating table one more time after the vote with a strike threat as additional leverage. At a time when studios are trying to make up for lost time after months of COVID-19 shutdowns and pauses, a work stoppage would cause even more disruption than usual.

For IATSE, there are three major sticking points in negotiations: They seek a hard limit on shooting hours to avoid 14-hour shoot days that can lead to exhaustion. They also want increased contributions to the union’s health and pension plan. But perhaps the biggest issue — one that all of Hollywood labor is facing — is increased wages and compensation for workers at a time when the streaming boom has caused rapid growth in production demand and profits.

“It is incomprehensible that the AMPTP, an ensemble that includes media mega-corporations collectively worth trillions of dollars, claims it cannot provide behind-the-scenes crews with basic human necessities like adequate sleep, meal breaks, and living wages,” IATSE said in a statement on Tuesday. “Worse, management does not appear to even recognize our core issues as problems that exist in the first place. These issues are real for the workers and change is long overdue.”

In its own statements, the AMPTP asserts that it “put forth a deal-closing comprehensive proposal that meaningfully addresses the IATSE’s key bargaining issues” and challenged IATSE’s claim in a memo to members that the studios did not intend to make a counteroffer to the union’s latest proposal. “It is unfortunate the IATSE has gone down the path of publishing false information about the negotiations. This approach unnecessarily polarizes the bargaining parties and elevates tensions at a time when we should be focused on finding ways to avoid a strike,” the AMPTP said in a statement on Thursday.

“A strike will have a devastating impact on the industry and inevitably will result in thousands of IATSE members losing their income, failing to qualify for health insurance benefits, jeopardizing funding for the pension plan and disrupting production,” the statement continued. “The Producers are committed to reaching an agreement at the bargaining table that balances the needs of both parties and will keep the industry working.”

IATSE members who spoke to TheWrap say they’re not entirely certain whether a strike will actually happen or if the authorization vote will be enough to convince the AMPTP to agree to more favorable terms. A strike on both the Hollywood and Area Standards Agreement would halt all union-hired productions across the U.S. and Canada — from big-screen blockbusters to talk shows.

But the Local 700 member said many members believe they must draw a hard line now — particularly on streaming projects. With new streaming services like HBO Max, Apple TV+ and Peacock still in the early stages of operation and looking to fill their libraries with original shows and movies, many workers feel Hollywood’s labor force must insist on favorable compensation deals amid an unprecedented demand for more content.

“If we don’t set strong demands now, it’s going to just get worse in later talks down the line,” the member said. “The studios still call these streaming shows ‘new media.’ It’s not ‘new’ media anymore. Hasn’t been in years. Streaming is going to make up a lot of the work in Hollywood and we can’t let the bar on how we are treated and paid be set so low.”

A script coordinator who is a member of IATSE Local 871, which represents the lowest paid union workers in the industry, said the strenuous conditions on sets have only gotten worse since shooting resumed after the pandemic shutdown. She credits social media campaigns built around hashtags like #IAStories with organizing members and encouraging them to discuss their struggles with working in the industry and build a united front.

“We might not have another chance like this to seriously change working conditions, and so many of us can’t wait any longer for change,” she said. “A shoot day over 12 hours, an hour commute and less than seven hours of sleep cannot be the status quo. It is going to burn people out of the industry.”