Here’s Why We Might Be Looking At A Total Shutdown In Hollywood

·8 min read

On today's episode of BuzzFeed Daily, we broke down the top pop culture headlines AND discussed why the IATSE has been in the news lately. You can listen below or scroll down to read more about the interview!

So let's dive right into it! Recently we talked to IATSE union member Marisa Shipley about the potential strike and Hollywood shutdown. Here's some of what we learned:

BuzzFeed Daily: You're a member of IATSE, which stands for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. IATSE was founded in 1893 and currently has over 150,000 members, making it one of the oldest and largest labor unions in the United States. Can you explain to our listeners what's been happening over the last few years and your role with IATSE?

Photo of a car with the words "FAIR WAGES FOR ALL IATSE" written on the window

Marisa Shipley: Absolutely. I am an art department coordinator by craft. I work freelance, mainly in TV, here in Los Angeles, and I am the vice president of IATSE Local 871, which represents a lot of majority and historically female crafts in the industry who are significantly underpaid compared to our counterparts in the industry.

So a lot of the work that I have done, and particularly our Local has done, is to talk about that wage gap, and the living wage proposals that are currently on the table in negotiations will hugely affect our membership. The union representatives have been at the negotiating table with the employers for the past several months, and our representatives have said that they are still fairly far apart on most of the things that we're negotiating for — a living wage for those members who make the least. Rest — our schedules are abusive and exhausting and unsafe, and we need not only rest between working days and over the weekend, but an actual meal break during the day. It seems like a very basic thing, but we're fighting pretty hard to have a meal in the middle of a 12+-hour day, [as well as] sustainable benefits and streaming companies paying into those benefits, and having the same working conditions as other shows.

Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

BuzzFeed Daily: Are these issues something that existed before COVID? What was the impact that the pandemic had on the working conditions?

Makeup artist in a surgical mask applying eyeshadow to a model

MS: I think these have been issues for many years. They are certainly issues that members have felt for many years and are increasingly part of the conversation. I think the pandemic shutdown gave members a perspective that they hadn't had before. I think because, for a lot of people, it was the first substantive break and rest that they had had, maybe in their careers, and gave people time with their families and time to pick up hobbies and all of the things that we just 1.) are too busy for and 2.) even when we have time, are too exhausted and catching up on doing laundry and all of the normal life things.

I saw the wife of a member called herself a "production widow" — when her husband takes on a new project, he kind of disappears from her life and she can't rely on him for going to dinner or engaging in any of the things, and kind of turns into a single person during those moments. And I think that speaks to the overwhelming schedule.

I think also when we came back from the shutdown, members felt like we were in some way promised an adjustment to these schedules. There was talk that our grueling schedules were not good for our immune systems and in the environment of COVID, a lot of us went back to work August/September of 2020. This is pre-vaccine instituted, all-new safety protocols in order to keep crew safe. And part of that was shorter days so that our immune systems were not exhausted and putting us at greater risk.

That was quickly thrown out of the window and crew felt like the rug was ripped out from under them. And so I think a combination of all of that, plus all of these companies trying to catch up on their content has only made the pinched schedules and asking us to work more and more for less and less — it has only increased in the period after coming back to work, and crews are just tired. And I think you absolutely see that in the truly amazing results of the strike authorization vote.

Pixelcatchers / Getty Images

BuzzFeed Daily: There's an IATSE Stories Instagram account, which has been documenting the experiences of union members and the working conditions they've been dealing with. What are some of the more egregious examples you've read about?

BuzzFeed Daily: Today is a big day for IATSE. Over the weekend union members voted on a strike authorization and the results just came out that the vote passed. Now, this isn't a vote to begin the strike — just to give leadership the authority to call a strike if they think it's necessary. There hasn't been a major strike in Hollywood since the 2007 writers' strike. What impact would an IATSE strike have on the entertainment industry?

GIPHY / Via giphy.com

MS: I think given the very high voter turnout and very high "yes" votes, we will see if this brings the employers back to the negotiating table. I think that's the next step and what people are waiting to see — if they do not want to engage in good faith, and give the union a deal that the membership are asking for.

A strike on these contracts would shut down much of the work in TV and film throughout the US, because we're not just talking about the basic agreement that affects Hollywood — we're also talking about the area standards, which affects work in much of the rest of the country. So that's 60,000 members working coast to coast that would result in production delays, which results in delays to people watching their favorite shows.

And no one wants to strike. I do not want to stop work and strike, but at some point you have to stand up for yourself and we all have to stand up for one another and say that we aren't just going to keep accepting the status quo. The industry needs to move and change with us.

BuzzFeed Daily: I'm curious how this experience has impacted your perspective on organized labor, not just in your union, but in any industry. What have you learned from this experience?

@iww / GIPHY / Via giphy.com

MS: It has only increased all of my belief and faith in organized labor and unions. Members are the union, and this vote comes as the result of a lot of work, not only by our leadership, but a lot of rank-and-file members who turned out their crew members and friends and peers. Text banking, phone banking did the groundwork to communicate just how important this vote was, and I think that it fits within the larger context of what you see happening with organized labor — is there is a larger and larger gap between the high highs and the low lows, and organized labor is one of the most effective ways to close that gap. I hope to see that happening in Hollywood, and I hope that this contributes to not only our members engaging more with their Locals and making clear their wants and needs and priorities, but for that to be the case in unions all across the country and all sorts of fields.

We also discussed the excerpts from Katie Couric’s soon-to-be-released memoir, obtained by the Daily Mail, that are surprising a lot of people.

Photo of Katie Couric smiling at something off-camera

In one excerpt, she discusses feeling threatened by then up-and-coming journalist Ashleigh Banfield — who hoped to find a mentor in Katie — because there’s always “someone younger and cuter around the corner."

Katie also recalls how Martha Stewart didn’t laugh at a joke she made about her at an award show, writing that it took “some healthy humbling (prison will do that) to develop a sense of humor."

Finally, Katie admitted she’d “heard the whispers” about her friend and colleague Matt Lauer early on in her career.

Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

Moving on, Ellen Pompeo recently found herself at the center of quite a bit of backlash after talking about fighting with Denzel Washington on the set of Grey’s Anatomy.

As always, thanks for listening! And if you ever want to suggest stories or just want to say hi, you can reach us at daily@buzzfeed.com.