N.Y. Union Flip-Flops, Urges Pact Approval

After verbal tongue-lashings by the IATSE president, a petition to censure by the majority of other east coast IA unions, and pressure from studios and the city, IATSE Local 52 leadership finally agreed to recommend passage of the producers’ contract proposal which, only weeks ago, they urged members to reject.

The concession to endorse a contract loaded with givebacks came during a lunch break of a hearing on the issue before the general executive board of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees last Thursday at the New York athletic Club.

After listening to testimony of how badly the production boycott has decimated the city, other unions and the service companies, 52 leadership held a lunchtime caucus and decided to give in. The move staved off more serious actions that might have been taken by the IA had 52 leadership not changed course. Despite expectations of fireworks at the NYAC, sources said the proceedings were “businesslike, very civil.”

That hardly reflected the mood at the emergency meeting of 52 held later in the day at the Days Inn hotel. The news shocked and angered many members of the craftsmen union who expected to vote on an alternative contract proposal that would have restored overtime for weekend and night work. Suddenly, the alternative proposal was thrown out, although it might still be used for independent producers.

Sources said most members had no idea that leadership would instead push for ratification of the producers contract that, weeks before, they had resoundlingly argued against. Originally, the negotiating committee voted 11 to 5 to reject, and the executive board voted 16 to 2 against. The offer was sent to members with a cover letter recommending rejection, and it was rejected by members 606 to 393.

About 30 of the members attending the meeting camped out before the NYAC with picket signs urging 52 leaders not to buckle to the producers or the IA.

A heated discussion of the latest about-face followed, said sources, during which time members were told that studios wouldn’t consider the alternative measure, and that if members stayed out of work much longer, the medical fund would be drained to a critical degree. Basically, Local 52 president Walter Stocklin told them there was no solution except to get back to work.

Some members grilled Stocklin about his change of heart. Sources said Stocklin had been wavering since last weekend, when IA prez Al DiTolla discussed with him the ramifications of the no vote by members tallied April 15. According to sources, the decision to endorse the proposal was a way to give Stocklin and 52 leaders a way out of the mess, with all parties content to chalk up the bad blood to a “misunderstanding.”

At the Local 52 meeting, after letters were from Mayor David Dinkins and Gov. Mario Cuomo were read, and the executive board made its appeal for ratification, a voice vote indicated most members in the room followed the board’s wishes.

If producers say the old deal is still on the table, the contract will now be re-sent to members with a cover letter explaining the offer in more detail and urging ratification.

The endorsement is expected to sway membership, but the outcome is unpredictable. In the vote tallied two weeks ago, of the local’s approximately 2,000 members, 178 votes were disallowed because members were behind on dues, 200 came in too late to be counted, and about 500 members are either retired or don’t work full time, and are thus ineligible to vote.

Submitting the offer to a revote will reestablish the credibility of Local 52, said Ken Finlay, chairman of 52’s newly formed public relations committee. But he hardly was enthusiastic about the contract.

“It’s a bad contract for us,” Finlay said. “We’re giving up a lot. We’ve made many proposals to meet them halfway. The frustrating part is we’ve been put into a corner. We don’t like being made the scapegoat for a business that makes $5 billion a year when we represent maybe 4% of a film’s budget. But we realize this is the only thing available.”

It also is unclear how 52’s president will fare as a result of the turnabout. Studios had been angry at Stocklin after they said he shook hands and agreed his union would recommend the contract, then turned around and urged rejection.

Some members now feel the same way, since Stocklin again changed course. Others felt that Stocklin, who only became president in January, has had more than his share of pressure during his four-month tenure, with the absorption of 800 members of NABET 15, pressure to make concessions to low-cost productions, and the studio dispute.

They said if the contract can be ratified, he should be given the chance to ease into a leadership role and begin repairing the damage incurred in the dispute within 52, the IA, the producers and other unions. Finlay felt 52 leadership still has the support of membership.

End to the stalemate?

Elsewhere, film officials who thought the dispute was over in March were guardedly optimistic that the development would end the stalemate that has prompted studios to stop filming in Manhattan since November.

“I’m really happy that Local 52 and the IA have worked together to resolve this issue,” said Jaynne Keyes, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting. “Hopefully, it will be ratified, and we can resume shooting in New York and make up for lost time.” The city already has lost an estimated $100 million in revenues because of the dispute.

Since it will take at least until mid-May before ratification could take place, filming probably won’t return until June. When the handshake deal originally was made, studios agreed to allow work to come back immediately, since ratification was expected. Projects like “Frankie And Johnny” and “Mad Dog And Glory” again were pulled when the 52 trouble began.

Reps of the studios were unavailable to say whether this latest development would cause the boycott to be lifted immediately, but most thought both the union and studios will likely wait for the vote.

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