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Casting agents cast their lots with the Teamsters

Pension, health coverage major issues in possible strike

As points of entree to the town’s players — and secret-keepers of the stars’ dirtiest laundry — Hollywood’s casting directors are understandably among the tightest-lipped and most warily regarded of showbizzers.

But that’s about to change, as 500 CDs — as they’re often called — have threatened to strike if they’re not allowed to unionize as part of the Teamsters.

Studio and network execs, who already regard the casting directors with suspicion, aren’t thrilled over the prospect of a work stoppage backed up by a union that’s shown it’s actually willing to use its muscle.

The CDs want pension and health coverage; the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has said no problem — just not as a union. And the AMPTP has even threatened to sue the Teamsters if there’s a work stoppage, for violating the no-strike portion of their contract.

The crucial issue is whether the CDs are employees or contractors. “The key question isn’t the terminology but how much actual control does the employer exercise,” notes labor relations expert Daniel Mitchell, UCLA professor of management and public policy. “Just calling someone an independent contractor doesn’t make them one.”

The Teamsters, who already rep studios drivers, location manager and scouts and animal wranglers, have lined up support from the other Hollywood unions. Dozens of stars — Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Cameron Diaz, Meryl Streep, Hilary Swank, Denzel Washington — have pledged their support.

If the CDs and the AMPTP can’t sort it out when they meet Feb. 1, Hollywood may face its first strike since SAG and AFTRA struck against the ad industry for six months in 2000.