Members: ‘Why Are We The Villains?’

While the IATSE general executive board grilled the leadership of Local 52 inside the New York Athletic Club on Thursday to try to end the stalemate that shut down Gotham’s film operation, over 30 members of Local 52 held picket signs outside urging their leaders to stand their ground against the producers contract.

The members, who’ve spent their careers on movie sets watching plots unfold before their eyes, feel they have been unfairly depicted as the villains in this ongoing drama.

Lost in a series of negotiating blunders and lack of communication by 52 leadership, members say, is the fact that they have legitimate gripes with a contract that will cut their salaries between 20% to 40%. They maintain the studios are using them as the scapegoats for soaring above-the-line costs.

“When the Daily News went on strike, the media was far more sympathetic, even though that paper was losing money,” said one member. “The studios can’t make that claim. They’re making a fortune. But they’ve been getting good p.r., and we’re just a bunch of blue collar guys made out to be the bad guys.”

While working on movies sounds glamorous, the members who picketed in the warm sun on Thursday said it’s not so, and the elimination of night and weekend overtime would guarantee that they stand around longer and later into the nights on locations.

“We’re out there sometimes until three or four in the morning, in the cold. In the rain,” said one. “Even McDonald’s gets night differential, but we would be working those late nights for regular pay.”

“If I work until four in the morning, which could happen often in this contract, then I can’t work on another job on the following day, because I have to be sure I can get back to the other job by 6 o’clock,” said Dusty Klatt.

These members said that, contrary to popular perception, they’re not rich guys. On average, a craftsman makes between $30,000 and $40,000. The good ones who find enough work can make $60,000. A few do better than that, they said. So a deal costing them between 20% and 40% will be severely felt.

Some members also were frustrated that the reluctance of Local 52 leadership to speak out on the issues has hurt any bargaining position they might have had. When all other parties at the bargaining table said the deal was done, 52 leaders didn’t dispute it, not until the letter surfaced that leaders urged their members to reject the contract. Members were never really told what leaders promised the studios during the final west coast bargaining sessions.

“Forget what they might have promised,” said one. “The studios knew full well that the contract had to come back to the negotiating committee and executive board for a vote. This just isn’t fair. The studios never really gave us the chance to negotiate. They were the ones who blackmailed us by pulling work until we gave in. And if we give in now, what will they want in three years?”

They said the conflict was inevitable when the California IA locals gave in on the any-five-of-seven days issue two years ago. Though the majority of members were said to be against the measure, a delegate system of voting was used to pass the measure.

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