Heather Fink has spent her working life on film and TV sets. But years of frustration with the long hours and stagnant pay had made her reach her tipping point. She, like many of the grips, gaffers, editors, designers and other crew members who making a living producing movies and shows, was ready to go on strike at midnight on Sunday. But as the clock ticked, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which numbers some 60,000 members, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached an agreement. Fink and her colleagues would not have to hit the picket lines.
Fink says the fact that the entertainment industry was nearly plunged into a shutdown served as an awakening.
“We’ve lost so much year after year,” she says. “But now they have our collective voice. They have more of our heart than they’ve ever had in the history of IATSE, because IATSE has never been so big and we’ve never had a profound social movement like this before. This is a once-in-a-lifetime historic breaking point.”
Over 98% of IATSE crew members voted to authorize a strike if not agreement could be reached. Fink credits the Instagram account IA_stories run by Marissa Shipley a set decorator coordinator on “Grace and Frankie,” with amplifying the need for change.
“Many of us realized, ‘Wow ok, that’s not normal and it’s not ok,'” says Fink. “I appreciated the spotlight on what felt like quiet suffering you just assumed no one cared about.”
Scores of Hollywood celebrities took to Twitter to weigh in. Among those were Patton Oswalt who said, “Good for @IATSE for standing your ground. And don’t forget we got your back anytime you need us #IASolidarity.”
Oscar-winning writer and director Adam McKay tweeted, “3% annual wage increases, guaranteed safe turn around times, diversity requirements and more money for pension & healthcare funds? That’s a big win. Way to go IATSE.”
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” actress Sarayu Blue was equally elated “This happened because of the extraordinary efforts of @IATSE and their union members mobilizing in the fight for #IAReasonableRest and more,” she tweeted. “This is so long overdue. I hope it’s truly a fair deal & one that gives our crews the humane work conditions they so deserve. #IASolidarity.”
In a statement from the Costume Designers Guild, Brigitta Romanov, CDG Assistant Executive Director said, “We could not have achieved this historical win without the unity of all the 13 West Coast Locals and all the amazing volunteers that helped. Especially, the incredible CDG members that persisted. Finally, thank you to each and every one of you for your help.”
While many workers are happy an agreement has been reached, not all crew members are thrilled with the agreement for a new three-year contract. Even though the pact includes improved wages and working conditions, as well as a 10-hour turnaround time between shifts, they believe it doesn’t go far enough.
“Turnaround” is a term for the minimum time between shifts. Some workers have 10-hour turnarounds already, but some have only eight or nine-hour turnarounds. A 10-hour turnaround for all workers has been one of the union’s objectives in the negotiation.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones is one of the workers who feel torn. “Part of me wanted us to strike and put real pressure on AMPTP to meet our demands,” she says. “I do know I’m hearing mixed opinions. IATSE leadership says it’s a good deal yet a lot of IATSE members are saying it’s not enough.” Details of the new contract will be shared via an upcoming townhall and Antoinette Jones says is waiting for more information before deciding how to cast her vote on whether or not to approve the pacts.
Costume designer Mandi Line is more cautiously optimistic. “People do not seem to be happy with the outcome,” she says. “For me, I’m happy about the ability to keep working, but if my teams aren’t happy with these ‘failed negotiations’ as they are calling it, all I can do as a boss is be the best example of the support they were needing to feel.”
Fink may have been ready to strike, but she believes the agreement is a step in the right direction.
“We’re at a historic inflection point, so hard-won battles by our IATSE reps may not be appreciated simply because the membership is mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore,” she says. “I think it makes absolute sense to ask for the whole world right now, because we never had as much momentum as we have in this moment, and we don’t want it to pass us by.”