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Lensers focus on strike fund

Union preparing for 'contentious' producer talks

The cinematographers’ local has set up a strike fund of several million dollars to prepare for what it predicts will be “difficult and contentious” negotiations between parent union IATSE and producers in September.

It’s the first time that the Intl. Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, has set up such a fund.

The move comes in response to a set of early proposals tendered by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers that left the camera local fuming.

“We want peace, but then we find that these guys want to take so much out of our contract,” said George Spiro Dibie, president of the guild. “It’s arrogant and insulting.”

Dibie said producers are proposing, among other things, a $6 cut in the hourly rate of first assistant cameramen, currently at $36.90; a drop in wages overall on the East Coast; and elimination of a provision that gives overtime pay of 2-1/2 times the regular rate for any work performed beyond 14 hours.

“That means they can work us 16, 17, 18 hours without any penalty, and we’ll be vegetables,” Dibie said in an interview.

A statement issued by Dibie’s office said that if the AMPTP “believes they can turn these negotiations into a forum for take-backs, they’re all wrong.”

The last negotiations between producers and the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, in 1996, “produced a contract without any take-backs and substantial improvements in the pension and individual account plan,” the statement said. “Local 600 expects the IA to do as well, if not better, in these negotiations.”

Dibie said producers “are mistaken if they think they can exploit runaway production to increase their leverage.” The guild’s members are angry, he said, “because they are working harder than ever and yet they see more and more money going into the pockets of the producers.”

Local 600’s national executive director, Bruce Doering, said the strike fund would provide a portion of members’ salaries and benefits should they elect to walk out.

“This isn’t a time for take-back proposals,” Doering said. “It’s a time to look at the big issues.”

AMPTP president Nick Counter could not be reached for comment Wednesday.