Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 644 voted to approve the Hollywood producers’ contract last week while Local 52 lost its president for two days just trying to get the contract in the mail again. It was just another week in New York, as the Gotham studio boycott entered its seventh month.
Local 644, which represents cinematographers, followed the recommendation of its leaders and ratified the producers’ contract by a 94% margin (478 to 30) on May 2. Things weren’t nearly that cleancut at Local 52.
TheWalter Stocklin, the embattled president of the craftsmen’s local, quit during an executive board meeting last April 30 after board members tried to pressure him into adding dissenting language to the ballot’s cover letter to members. Before those ballots reached membership mailboxes, Stocklin had changed his mind and decided to resume his four-month tenure in the hot seat.
Stocklin refused to change the cover letter, said sources, because he felt it would have undermined an agreement made with IA president Al DiTolla and the IA general executive board at an emergency meeting two weeks ago. That meeting was called after DiTolla and studio negotiators charged that Stocklin pulled an about-face – agreeing to endorse the deal to membership and then allowing the union’s negotiating committee and exec board to urge rejection.
Even though Local 52 leadership now endorses the deal, its passage is far less a sure thing than at 644. How the May 16 votes will tally is anybody’s guess; the first vote was 606 to 393 against, with almost 400 additional votes discounted because they were late, or members were behind on dues.
The feuding was so heated that Stocklin didn’t return Wednesday, and only changed his mind Thursday afternoon, after receiving a telegram from the executive board and numerous phone calls from members and other union leaders. Though the executive board argued for new language in the cover letter and even discussed sending another letter with dissenting opinions on the contract, they decided to leave it as Stocklin wanted.
Stocklin’s return brought a sigh of relief to the executive board, said 52 spokesman Ken Finlay, who denied that the leader exited solely over the cover letter. The union installed v.p. Ray Fortune as temporary leader and had been making plans to cement his status with a special meeting on May 28.
Members of the executive board weren’t the only principals in the dispute pleased that Stocklin came back. Though Stocklin ran into more than his share of controversy in his short stint in the hot seat, others involved in the studio standoff felt that a change in leadership at this point could have hurt both the union and attempts to end a studio boycott that has decimated the film community.
A copy of the letter, obtained by VARIETY, explained the revote was done to correct the “misunderstanding” with studio negotiators, and told members that the executive board and negotiating committee took another secret ballot and recommended acceptance. The word acceptance was highlighted in italics, and another paragraph pressed reasons for passage.
“High unemployment in the local in the past seven months, an estimation of the economics of the near future and the possibility of a large number of the membership losing medical benefits are some of the reasons for reconsideration,” the letter explained.
More political maneuvering is expected behind the scenes. Sources said that hardline members of Local 52 would again be calling other members to urge rejection. Meanwhile, the East Coast Council sent a mailing of its own to all IA members endorsing the deal to all locals. Local 52 leadership denies making calls.
‘Premier production center’
Local 644 ran into far fewer problems in getting passage of the deal. “We are extremely gratified that the membership has accepted the negotiated settlement with producers and we look forward to New York regaining its stature as the premier production center of the world,” said 644’s business rep, Louis D’Agostino, who planned to take the union’s news to Cannes.
D’Agostino, also chairman of the East Coast Council, will be there trying to pitch producers of low-budget projects. The Council was empowered by DiTolla to make deferred compensation deals with independent projects with budgets under $5 million. The latest to sign on are Paul Schrader’s “Light Sleeper,” and “Jersey Girls,” an Electric Films production. Budgets for both are $4 million to $5 million.
Local 52 has been getting nibbles with another alternative contract for independent producers of big-budget projects who aren’t part of the pending studio deal. The contract includes some weekend and night overtime. Finlay said Woody Allen is using the contract for reshoots on his Orion film, and the union is talking with producers of “Freejack” and “Last Wish.”