The West Coast members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — Hollywood’s key below-the-line union — are returning to the bargaining table on Tuesday, only a week prior to the current contract’s expiration.
IASTE has held two rounds of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, one in early April and the most recent on June 26 to June 29. The negotiations are for a successor deal to the current three-year master contract covering 13 Hollywood locals, including Cinematographers Guild Local 600, Editors Guild Local 700, and Art Directors Guild Local 800. In total, the contract covers more than 43,000 employees.
The current deal expires on July 31. Key issues that have emerged in the talks have included continued funding for the union’s pension plan and safety issues, including excessive hours.
The AMPTP did not respond to a request for comment. The negotiations have been taking place under a news blackout.
The IATSE usually reaches an agreement with AMPTP long before expiration so the fact that negotiations remain open has been interpreted as a sign of the difficulty of reaching a compromise amid profound changes in how the entertainment business operates. In 2015, IATSE reached a tentative agreement more than three months prior to expiration.
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But negotiations appear to be growing tougher. For example, the Writers Guild of America reached its deal last year on a successor contract less than an hour before its contract expired and SAG-AFTRA reached its agreement on a successor contract three days after expiration.
Members of Local 700 have been active in showing solidarity during the hiatus. More than 1,800 attended a meeting on July 21 at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Los Angeles and a July 17 meeting in New York City drew 300 members, according to a report in Cinemontage, the official journal of the local. Additionally, the local’s Facebook page, “I Am the Union,” has more than 3,000 members.
Local 700 president Alan Heim accused the AMPTP of being unfair in the article.
“This is the first time in my many years as a union member that I feel the studios are not dealing in good faith,” Heim said. “They are denying us the same funding plan offered to the DGA, SAG, and the WGA. Why are the studios attempting to minimize our pension and health plan?”
A source close to the talks told Variety that the companies have indicated that they are supportive of providing the funding needed to keep the health and pension plan viable.
The issue of long hours was highlighted by the 1997 death of camera assistant Brent Hershman, who was killed in a traffic accident on his way home from a 19-hour day on the set of “Pleasantville,” and the 2014 death of transportation driver Gary Joe Tuckman, who died after falling asleep at the wheel following an 18-hour work day on the set of “Longmire.”
In 2015, the West Coast unions reached the current deal with the AMPTP with annual wage and pension increases; no cuts or increased costs to the participants of the health plan; and “substantial improvements” in working conditions for new media productions.
The editors, cinematographers, and art directors are part of national IATSE locals. The other locals include Property Craftspersons (Local 44), Costume Designers (Local 892), Make Up Artists & Hair Stylists (Local 706), Motion Picture Costumers (Local 705), Motion Picture Studio Electrical Lighting Technicians (Local 728), Motion Picture Studio Grips, Crafts Service, Set Medics, Marine and Warehouse Workers (Local 80), Motion Picture Set Painters & Sign Writers (Local 729), Motion Picture Studio Teachers and Welfare Workers (Local 884), Production Sound Technicians, Television Engineers, Video Assist Technicians and Studio Projectionists (Local 695), and Script Supervisors/Continuity, Coordinators, Accountants & Allied Production Specialists Guild (Local 871).