Studios Hopeful Despite Break In NYC Union Talks

Studio negotiators came and went last week without making a new deal with locals of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and without ending the studio production boycott in Gotham.

A meeting with IATSE Local 644 (cinematographers) broke up quickly. But studio negotiators claimed a small victory: They completed two days of talks and exchanges of proposals with IA Local 52 (studio mechanics), and left open the possibility for more.

That a victory could be claimed for completing two meetings in civilized fashion with Local 52 indicates how far away the unions are from settling new pacts. Studios are seeking an agreement that union members would work an any-five-of-seven-day work week for regular pay, and limit any overtime to time-and-a-half wages.

Studio perception of the two locals has shifted in the last month. Early on, the negotiators representing Columbia, Paramount, Fox, Orion and Warner Bros. expected to have a tougher time convincing the conservative leadership of Local 52 to swallow the overtime concessions. They hoped that a pact with the more liberal Local 644 might serve as a model for 52 and other IA locals whose contracts have expired.

But 644 has held fast to its refusal to work the same wages as Los Angeles unions without getting the pension and welfare benefits those unions enjoy through residual payouts. The studios refuse to give residuals.

Negotiators began to rethink their strategy after a December meeting with 644 came to a heated end and the studios left a final offer for its members to consider. Louis D’Agostino, 644’s business representative, said he told the studio negotiators last week that his membership had rejected studio plan by a 97% margin. Little else was accomplished.

“They said, ‘Okay, our offer still stands.’ They would not make a counteroffer,” said D’Agostino. “We talked about alternatives, but they refused to engage in the collective bargaining process.” He said 644 is ready to return to table anytime studio reps want to bargain seriously.

Negotiators hoped the election at Local 52 of a new president, Walter Stocklin, and some new board members might make the union more flexible. Joel Grossman, exec v.p. of labor negotiations at Columbia who is heading the 52 talks for the studios, was guardedly optimistic that might be the case.

“A lot of progress was made in negotiations with 52, while very little was made with 644,” Grossman said, adding the proposals presented to 52 last week differed from the one 644 rejected, but wouldn’t get specific. “The parties are continuing to talk, and definitely didn’t break off the negotations. Each side is regrouping, they’re going back to their membership to talk about proposals, as are we.”

Stocklin, who took office Jan. 10, echoed Grossman’s optimism: “The negotiations are ongoing. The… lines of communication are wide open. We sincerely hope to meet in the near future, in hopes that this can be settled.”

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