Unions team to organize more shows

The two below-the-line unions repping most film and TV industry crews — the Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — are ramping up their joint organizing efforts in the reality TV arena.

“We are putting a lot of effort into reality because there’s so much non-union work being done,” said Mike Miller, IATSE’s motion picture chief. “It really runs the gamut from shows that let us in the front door to shows that we have to push on.”

IATSE reached a three-year deal last summer covering crews for TV shows produced by FremantleMedia North America, including “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent” and “The X Factor.” The two unions reached a deal last month with TNT reality series “The Great Escape.”

“The unions are doing an organizing drive to get all the reality shows covered,” Teamsters attorney Joseph Kaplon said.

The effort comes two years after the unions entered into a formal “mutual assistance” agreement to work together toward common goals in an announcement by IATSE president Matthew Loeb and Teamsters general president Jim Hoffa. That came shortly after Teamsters Local 399, which covers about 3,200 drivers in 13 Western states, and IATSE negotiated master contract agreements that synched up their expiration dates — leading to joint negotiations during March and April centering on pension and health issues in the new contracts.

“The leaders of both unions feel very strongly that we need to cooperate,” Kaplon said.

Miller told Variety that the two unions have already worked together on half a dozen reality shows and noted that crews have been highly supportive of the efforts.

The unions first worked together in late 2010 when IATSE staged a successful walkout against producers of the reality show “The Biggest Loser.” Earlier this year, IATSE and the Teamsters struck against producers of cable series “1000 Ways to Die.”

IATSE has also hired Vanessa Holtgrewe, who was director of photography on “The Biggest Loser,” as an organizer.

The Directors Guild of America has achieved some success in the reality TV sector, with more than 650 shows organized over more than a decade. The Writers Guild of America East has unionized reality TV producers Atlas Media, ITV Studios, Lion TV and Optomem and has been in negotiations with Atlas, Lion and Optomem while ITV has appealed the unionization election results to the National Labor Relations Board.

The WGA West made extensive efforts to organize reality, particularly on “America’s Next Top Model” in 2006, and included jurisdiction over the sector as one its strike demands that stayed on the table until a few weeks before the writers strike ended in 2008.

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