IATSE on Monday called for a strike authorization vote, after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers declined to respond to the union’s latest contract offer.
The union’s 13 West Coast locals have been bargaining for several months on a new three-year agreement. The union is seeking to address long hours, with contract provisions that would include more rest breaks and longer “turnaround” times between production days.
“Today, the AMPTP informed the IATSE that they do not intend to respond to our comprehensive package proposal presented to them over a week ago,” the union told members. “This failure to continue negotiating can only be interpreted one way. They simply will not address the core issues we have repeatedly advocated for from the beginning. As a result, we will now proceed with a nationwide strike authorization vote to demonstrate our commitment to achieving the change that is long overdue in this industry.”
In response, the AMPTP said that by pursuing the strike authorization, the union leadership had “walked away from a generous comprehensive package” that included “substantial improvements” in several areas. The full AMPTP statement is posted below.
The vote, assuming it passes, would strengthen the hand of union negotiators, who are also seeking concessions on issues including pension and health care funding and new media.
The real sticking point appears to be the “quality of life” issues raised by members who have grown exhausted with 14-hour production days and “Fraturdays” — workdays that begin on Friday and go until early Saturday morning.
“What we work — it’s insane, it’s absolutely insane,” said Katie Sponseller, a production coordinator who said she has been working 60-hour weeks without a break between jobs to recharge. “I survive on caffeine and craft services.”
The union expects to send an email to members on Oct. 1, asking them to vote electronically. The result of the vote would be announced on Oct. 4. That time frame allows for the union to educate its members about the vote.
For each of the 13 locals, 75% of the voting members would have to vote “yes” in order for that union’s delegates to support the authorization. The vote would have to be approved by a majority of delegates across all locals.
The 13 locals represent 60,000 members, including grips, hair stylists, makeup artists, boom operators, editors, and many other entertainment crafts. Locals 600, 700 and 800 — representing the camera operators, editors and art directors, respectively — are national unions, which means that if they go on strike, their members would walk off the job across the country. The other 10 unions are limited to the Los Angeles area.
The three-year basic agreement expired on Sept. 10, but production has continued as negotiators continued to talk. An authorization vote does not mean that a strike is definitely in the offing, but the union is taking a more aggressive stance than it has in recent negotiations.
The full AMPTP response:
“The AMPTP put forth a deal-closing comprehensive proposal that meaningfully addresses the IATSE’s key bargaining issues. When we began negotiations with the IATSE months ago, we discussed the economic realities and the challenges facing the entertainment industry as we work to recover from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The IATSE came to the bargaining table with several priority initiatives including addressing its pension and health plan deficit, longer rest periods and meal breaks, wage increases and outsized minimum rate increases for specific job categories. The AMPTP listened and addressed many of the IATSE demands, including paying nearly $400 million pension and health plan deficit. The package includes substantial improvements in rest periods, increases in wages and benefits, increases in minimum rates for specific job categories and increases in minimum rates for New Media Productions. While neither party is getting everything it wanted this bargaining cycle, this package recognizes the crucial role IATSE crew members play as we continue to move our industry forward and provide employment for thousands of employees who work on productions.
“In choosing to leave the bargaining table to seek a strike authorization vote, the IATSE leadership walked away from a generous comprehensive package. Key components include:
· Economic package for all IATSE members consistent with agreements reached with other unions before the pandemic.
· Improve minimum rates (on average 18% increase) on certain types of New Media productions.
· The IATSE Pension and Health Plan is expected to have a deficit of $400 million over the next three years. In this proposal, the employers will cover the projected deficit of nearly $400 million without imposing premium payments for the no-cost single employee health coverage and without increasing the extremely low cost of dependent health coverage, deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. Without this infusion of contributions, the reserve level in the Active Health Plan is projected to fall from 17.5 months as of the end of 2020 to 3.1 months as of the end of 2024, and the reserve level in the Retiree Health Plan is projected to fall from 14.4 months as of the end of 2020 to 2.1 months as of the end of 2024. Reserves are critical because they enabled the Directors of the Health Plan to continue coverage for thousands of participants during the pandemic without any additional cost.
· Meaningful improvements in rest periods for those working on first season series television, for post-production personnel assigned to/employed on series television, pilots, feature films and distant location.
· A considerable increase in minimum rates (increases ranging from 10% to 19%) for Assistant Production Office Coordinators, Art Department Coordinators, Writers’ Room Assistants and Script Coordinators.
· Addition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday.
· Agreement on meaningful proposal to address diversity, equity and inclusion issues.”
Update, 9:30 a.m. Sept. 21: IATSE has issued a lengthier statement explaining why talks have broken down.
Throughout the bargaining process, the AMPTP has failed to work with us on addressing the most grievous problems in their workplaces, including:
• Excessively unsafe and harmful working hours.
• Unlivable wages for the lowest paid crafts.
• Consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends.
• Workers on certain “new media” streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released
It is incomprehensible that the AMPTP, an ensemble that includes media megacorporations collectively worth trillions of dollars, claims it cannot provide behind-the-scenes crews with basic human necessities like adequate sleep, meal breaks, and living wages. Worse, management does not appear to even recognize our core issues as problems that exist in the first place.
These issues are real for the workers in our industry, and change is long overdue. However, the explosion of streaming combined with the pandemic has elevated and aggravated working conditions, bringing 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers covered by these contracts to a breaking point. We risked our health and safety all year, working through the Pandemic to ensure that our business emerged intact. Now, we cannot and will not accept a deal that leaves us with an unsustainable outcome.
In response to the AMPTP’s tactics, IATSE members are mobilizing in preparation of a nationwide strike authorization vote to demonstrate our commitment to achieving the change that is long overdue in this industry.