Shared Interests Have Led New Mexico Unions and Government to Work Together

Over the past decade, thanks to its aggressive tax rebate, New Mexico has positioned itself as a filmmaking and TV production magnet that’s attracted over $2 billion in spending — including such projects as “Breaking Bad,” the new “Manhattan” series, “Transcendence,” “Transformers 2,” “Terminator Salvation,” “True Grit” and “Cowboys & Aliens.”

But despite that success story, the state’s local unions also face some unique challenges, says Jon Hendry, business agent for IATSE Local 480. “We have a Republican governor, Susana Martinez, who’s indicated that she’s not particularly union-friendly, and we have a robust union, which was very close to the last administration,” he says.

But the two sides share many interests, which has led to a fruitful compromise. “After three years we’ve finally worked out a truce, if not a warm relationship, and both parties understand that we have to work together for our common goals,” Hendry adds.

He stresses that together they’re creating private-sector jobs — “the hardest thing to do for any government” — and that there’s “a grudging respect” for what the unions are achieving.

Hendry also reports that, outside the film business, the state has yet to recover jobs lost in the recession. “The film and TV business has been the most successful program here, which is a testament to what we do,” he adds. “And I think the governor realizes that, and we’re working more and more with the film office and her administration. They’ve come around to realize our value here and what we all contribute to the state economy.”

Production levels are back to where they were before the recession, “and we’ve recovered from the blip when the Martinez administration indicated they wanted to cut the tax incentive,” he says. “That was a problem for us, for 18 months.”

Hendry notes that thanks to the “Breaking Bad” phenomenon, TV work has dramatically increased to “about 50% of overall production.”

Crews are now working 121 days a year, up from 90, and average IATSE salaries are up to $53,000. “That may not sound too impressive in L.A. or New York,” says Hendry, “but it’s twice the average state wage here. “They’re good jobs with benefits like health insurance and pensions — particularly so in New Mexico.”

That success has translated into work elsewhere for the state’s deep and experienced crew base. “We’re now supplying crews for productions all over the country — from Louisiana, Georgia and Florida to New York and Pittsburgh,” he says. “And that’s a direct result of building up that crew base over the past 10 to 12 years.”

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