Lenser dissent imperils IATSE deal

Guild will not endorse H'w'd Basic Agreement

Cinematography leaders have refused to endorse the IATSE Basic Agreement because the new contract allows for the possible elimination of a union camera operator on features and TV.

The Intl. Cinematographers Guild, operating as Local 600 of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, has about 5,700 eligible members, and it is one of the most prominent below-the-line Hollywood unions, with coverage of camera crews and publicists.

The Hollywood Basic Agreement, which covers 18 West Coast locals, has never been rejected at the ratification stage. IATSE negotiators had reached an accord last month with studios and nets for a three-year deal that would replace the current pact, which expires Aug. 1.

No date’s been set for sending out the contract for ratification. Should the members fail to ratify the contract, IATSE leaders would be in a tricky spot — they’d have to seek a contract extension or persuade studios and nets to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a deal that would pass muster with the IATSE membership.

The ICG’s opposition, which emerged at a weekend meeting of its national exec board, stems mostly from the new pact’s elimination of a requirement that union camera operators be hired for features and TV. Though final contract language hasn’t been released, the vote by Local 600 could lead to further opposition in solidarity with the camera operators.

The ICG said the proposed contract is a “radical departure” from the standard practice of employing union camera operators. Opponents of ratification contended that the new pact would allow directors of photography to operate cameras much more than under current rules, along with making it more difficult for camera assistants to gain advancement.

IATSE president Tom Short did not appear at the national exec board meeting and wasn’t available for comment Monday.

Short, who’s held the IATSE post since 1994, had been the lead negotiator in the bargaining of the new pact with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. He’s been an advocate of making agreements long before contracts expire, contending that employers are more likely to include the best possible terms at that point in exchange for stability.

Other key terms of the tentative deal:

  • wage hikes of 75¢ per hour in the first year and 3% in the second and third years

  • hikes of 0.5% in the second year and 0.5% in contributions to the Individual Account Plan;

  • a 10% increase in pension payments along with hikes in contributions to the health plan and defined-benefit pension plan

  • an increase in meal penalties

  • a roster change that allows members to go three years without working instead of the current two years without being dropped

  • an increase in medical provider co-payments and prescription drug co-payments for members. The unanimous vote by the ICG board caught union insiders off-guard. The guild was politically split two years ago when Gary Dunham won as president by a 52%-48% margin over Stephen Lighthill, after Dunham’s campaign stressed the need for a more confrontational stance on fighting runaway production.

Lighthill was among the exec board members voting against ratification over the weekend.

Other key locals covered by the Hollywood Basic Agreement include Local 44 (property), with 5,600 members; Local 80 (grip), with 2,100; Local 683 (lab techs), 1,100; Local 695 (sound), 1,500; Local 700 (editors), 6,000; Local 728 (electric), 2,100; Local 729 (set painters), 1,000; Local 839 (animation), 1,700; and Local 871 (script supervisors), 1,300 members.

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