Hollywood is starting to brace for a strike that would essentially shut down the entire industry on Monday morning.
Talks have stalled on a new contract for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which has lately accused the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers of refusing to made enough concessions. Matthew D. Loeb, the international president of IATSE, set a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. PT Monday if a new contract cannot be reached.
The 13 local IATSE unions on the West Coast have already been stockpiling picket signs and masks, and are preparing to set up schedules for picket duty. Those locals represent camera operators, cinematographers, publicists, costumers, makeup artists, editors, sound technicians, electricians and set painters, among other disciplines.
IATSE members have started to focus on the practicalities of being on strike. Workers will not be getting paychecks, and unlike during the pandemic, workers in California will not be eligible for unemployment compensation. The state Employment Development Department has an explainer on the nuances of this subject. The rules vary from state to state, however. In New York, striking workers are eligible for unemployment after 14 days.
“If we strike, we will be picketing studios and job sites and doing our best to stop production everywhere,” the leaders of the International Cinematographers Guild told members on Wednesday. “Our greatest value is our labor, and withholding our labor is our greatest weapon.”
The major studios and networks have started to scramble this week to make contingency plans should production come to a halt on Monday. But there’s no way to stockpile material in advance when it comes to the work done by IATSE crew members. Programming executives at major networks are stunting to hunt for acquisitions from the U.K., Australia and other territories that might work as replacement programming if a long work stoppage ensues.
A strike would be felt even more widely than the 2007-08 strike by the Writers Guild of America, which left some productions — notably reality shows — up and running. In this case, the strike would halt all work under the Basic Agreement, the Videotape Agreement and the Area Standards Agreement, which covers the vast majority of TV and film production from coast to coast.
Some production work will continue, however, because it is governed by separate contracts that have yet to expire, and those contracts contain no-strike clauses. Those exempt productions include commercials, animation, low-budget films and projects for HBO, Showtime, BET and Starz. Some workers have been asking their locals which contract they work on, and whether they are expected to strike or go to work.
“If there is a strike, it’s going to be a shitshow for the first couple or three days,” said Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399. “There’s going to be a lot of confusion.”
The strike will cover 60,000 workers in the IATSE locals but will also affect about 10,000 workers in the other basic crafts unions, including the Teamsters and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The Teamsters will not work on any jobs where IATSE is on strike, Dayan said.
“We honor picket lines,” he said.
Striking workers will not lose their health insurance — at least not right away. To maintain coverage under the Motion Picture Industry health plan, workers need to have worked 400 hours in the prior six months. If the strike goes on for a while, however, some workers will lose coverage once they fall below that threshold.
If a strike is called, some workers will be out of town on location shoots. The employer is obliged to make arrangements for them to return home on Monday or shortly thereafter, according to an explainer from Affiliated Property Craftspersons Local 44. The local also advised members to bring home any personal tools or other belongings on their last day of work before the strike deadline on Sunday night.
The International union will not provide any strike pay, leaving that up to the various locals, according to Jonas Loeb, the International’s spokesman. Some of the local unions do have strike funds, though they have not explained whether and how those funds could be disbursed.
During the three-month writers strike in 2007-08, the WGA distributed about $3 million in strike loans to about 250 members. Approximately 90% of that total has since been repaid, according to the guild’s financial reports.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor would lend logistical support to the strike, including sending workers from its 320 affiliate unions to participate in picket lines, said Christian Castro, the federation’s spokesman. The federation also has a non-profit arm, Labor Community Services, that provides food and other forms of support to striking workers.
“We already have a warehouse full of food that we’ve already palletized and boxed for IATSE members,” said Armando Olivas, executive director of Labor Community Services.
Olivas said he would encourage the IATSE locals to set up hardship committees, which would be tasked with figuring out who needs the most help. The non-profit could end up providing rental and utility assistance, as well as Thanksgiving turkeys and toys for children during the holidays.
“There’s virtually no assistance from the government for striking families,” Olivas said. “Unions are kind. They will back up their sisters and brothers.”