An entertainment industry worker describes harsh conditions and says she's ready for a strike

·4 min read
IATSE strike 2021
Yuan Thueson a member of Local 705, said many Hollywood production crews have worked 12 to 14 hour days the last few months with no breaks. She said she is tired and burned out. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
  • Yuan Thueson says workers regularly work up to 16-hour days with no lunch break, weekends included.

  • Thueson is also calling for changes to IATSE's pension plan and health benefits.

  • They said a diversity and inclusion plan should be included in a final contract offer.

It has become routine for Yuan Thueson to work up to 14-hour days, especially as movie productions ramped up in the last few months following a downswing early in the pandemic.

But she is tired.

"Everybody's days have been really long and it just seems like it's getting worse and worse," the costume maker said. "People are just tired and overworked, burned out."

According to Thueson, it's gotten to the point where they aren't getting lunch breaks on set. Her husband works on the sound crew and she said sometimes food is made available for three or four hours, but the camera crew keeps rolling so everyone else has to stay on set.

"There's really no sit-down breaks," Thueson said. "You have an irregular sleep schedule. You are already working long hours. Crews are all exhausted. And your work-rest time for the previous workweek feeds into your Saturday. So that's what we're really trying to fix."

Thueson is one of the 60,000 International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) who will begin a nationwide strike on October 18 at 12:01 a.m. PDT, according to union President Matthew Loeb, if a new contract isn't reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Thueson is part of IATSE's Local 705 motion picture costumers chapter.

AMPTP spokesman Jarryd Gonzales responded to the threat of a strike, saying, "The studios will continue to negotiate in good faith in an effort to reach an agreement for a new contract that will keep the industry working."

Jonas ​​Loeb, IATSE director of communications, said the union's main contract with the AMPTP expired in July 2021, and that the workers are on a temporary extension.

"Nobody wants to strike," Jonas Loeb said, adding he has heard about exhausted workers falling asleep at the wheel. Some of those stories have been captured on an anonymous Instagram account that purports to be dedicated to highlighting stories surrounding the IATSE.

"We love making the entertainment that millions of people around the world watch and love," Jonas Loeb added. "We just want to be treated with bare minimum respect while we do it."

After the vote to give strike authorization power to Matthew Loeb, workers received a letter of solidarity from the Directors Guild of America with top-line names such as Ava DuVernay and Barry Jenkins, who cowrote and directed the 2016 Academy Award best picture winner "Moonlight," signing on in support.

Among the union's demands are more sick pay because of the pandemic, better hours and breaks, and changes to a pension and health benefits plan, Thueson, who also sits on the contract negotiating committee, said.

According to Variety, proposals that have been put forward in recent days by the studios include a 10-hour turnaround for all productions and a provision for weekend rest. The union has delivered a counteroffer.

It's not just about work hours and pay

Thueson said she is focused on getting another contract along with her union colleagues, but said there's also a need to address pay equity.

As a Taiwanese-American, Thueson said those issues are important to her, along with the need for studios to hire more people of color.

She said their local executive board has never been more diverse than it is right now, and she is pushing for the diversity and inclusion plan currently on the table to be included in a final contract.

"There are a lot of things we're not addressing as much as we'd like," Thueson said. "We're aware of it, and we're really trying to fix it."

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