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IATSE, producers reach tentative 3-year contract

Wages, benefits get boost

Representatives of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers have reached tentative agreement on a three-year contract that would affect about 30,000 members of West Coast locals.

The agreement, announced Tuesday in a joint statement from IATSE prexy Thomas C. Short and AMPTP chief J. Nicholas Counter, was actually reached Sept. 28. An IATSE official who asked not to be named attributed the delay in making the deal public to internal “scheduling problems.”

The announcement was bereft of details, with Short and Counter saying only that the new agreement “embodies a host of improvements including a wage increase, increased contributions to the IAP (Individual Account Plan, similar to an annuity plan) and pension and health benefits.”

If ratified, the contract provides for “many additional and new health benefits,” according to the statement.

Details withheld

The IATSE official said details were being withheld until members have a chance to read them in referendum documents that are to be mailed in the next few weeks.

“We want members to make up their own minds rather than to see things in print alongside other points of view,” the official said.

Negotiations between the two sides began the last week in August, 11 months before the contract’s scheduled expiration on July 31.

“There were no issues of major significance,” Counter told Daily Variety on Tuesday. “They were very constructive negotiations. It was more problem-solving and working on keeping production going. There were bumps in the road, but we worked out some solutions.”

In his statement, Short said IATSE “opted to begin early negotiations to protect the continuity of work” for the union’s members.

“With this tentative basic agreement, endorsed by the local union business agents in the bargaining unit, we achieved our goal,” he went on. “The producers can move forward with production plans, and our members can count on steady work opportunities.”

Short and Counter both said they were pleased with the outcome of the negotiations and felt that all parties “came together in good faith with the ultimate intent of reaching an agreement and worked diligently to achieve their respective goals.”

Past troubles

The process this time was smoother than three years ago, when some Hollywood rank-and-file workers stirred up a campaign against the contract, calling it a sellout. The ruckus created an odd scenario — the IATSE leadership and the studios on the same side of an issue, since both Short and Counter ardently supported the proposed pact.

Before Short took over the union’s top job in 1995, its strength had been weakened by IATSE’s propensity to tip its hand too early in negotiations with the AMPTP. Short has beefed up organizing while acknowledging the realities of an industry subject to the vagaries of public taste and international finances.

To that end, he reached an agreement in 1996 with low-budget filmmakers that brought 95% of the films lensed in Los Angeles under IATSE’s wing, which provided work for union crews even if it hasn’t stopped the union from harassing indie productions that can’t afford to sign up.