Unions worried about overtime ruling

Hollywood’s unions will not be immediately affected by a state panel’s decision to eliminate daily overtime pay, but labor officials fear that the change eventually will have an impact on future contract negotiations.

The state Industrial Welfare Commission voted 3-2 Friday to implement a rule that would only authorize overtime pay for work in excess of 40 hours per week. Workers are currently paid overtime for work in excess of eight hours, although that provision is superseded by a union’s collective bargaining agreement.

Some of Hollywood’s unions, including the Screen Actors Guild and the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, opposed the change and lobbied against it. Among their arguments: That workers in entertainment would be hit hard because of the freelance nature of the business.

For example, crew members, especially those in commercials, may work for two or more employers in the same week, but never receive overtime pay because they didn’t work 40 hours for a single employer.

Last year, the commission agreed that the motion picture and television industry would be exempted from the change.

But IATSE officials still fear that the change will give producers more leverage to insist on more flexible overtime provisions when they negotiate a new contract in 2000.

“Our concern is if the floor is eliminated, we are in a freefall,” said Bruce Doering, executive director of the Intl. Photographers Guild Local 600. He added: “It’s an outrageous decision. What it does is make workers work longer hours for less money.”

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has been neutral on the issue, but may very well back the new overtime provision because so many other industries in the state would have the same guidelines.

Backers of the change have said that it will simply put California in line with the rest of the country, because federal provisions require overtime pay after 40 hours. And they say that it also will give employees more flexibility to determine their schedules and deal with personal needs.

Last week, Barbara Jerome, a labor representative for Make Up Artists and Hairstylists Local 706, wrote a commentary in the Los Angeles Times, challenging the notion that the change will benefit workers.

“Employers expect us to believe that they are spending a tremendous amount of resources on lawyers and lobbyists in an effort to give us time off to take our children to ballgames,” she wrote. “Is there anyone who really believes that she will be able to call her employer and tell him that she won’t be working that day but will make up the time next week?”

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