Negotiators for IATSE and Hollywood’s major studios are closing in on a deal that would avert a strike that has threatened to shutter most film and TV production in Hollywood.
Industry sources said virtual negotiations between the sides went late into Friday night as Carol Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers bargaining organization for the major studios, addressed numerous IATSE leaders about the details of deals on thorny issues of working conditions that were sorted through in the marathon sessions.
Industry sources cited Peter Rice, chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, and veteran entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren as key players who helped Lombardini bridge the gap during the past few days. Sources said Lombardini and Loeb both knuckled down on a key items list with a mutual understanding that a strike would cripple the industry that is only now starting to recover from the shock of COVID.
One move from the studio side that helped move things along was a hike in the raise schedule over the three-year term of the deal. Instead of basic minimums rising 3% in year one of the deal and 2.5% for the remaining two years, the contract will bring 3% hikes per year. The deal was also expected to include 10 hours off between shifts — called “turnarounds” — and 54-hour turnarounds on weekends. Other details were not immediately forthcoming, but the union was also pushing for lunch breaks and an end to a lower wage scale for streaming companies.
A union official said that the talks were still underway, but that the agreement would make major progress on a range of issues.
“If we stopped now, it is still a greater gain than we’ve made in the history of negotiation,” the official said. “And we still want more.”
Sources familiar with the talks said Lombardini spent several hours on a video conference call discussing the deal terms, pension and health plan issues and the quality-of-life concerns that brought IATSE to the brink of a nationwide strike for the first time in the union’s nearly 130-year history.
The tentative contract agreement would have to be ratified by the roughly 60,000 union members covered by the locals whose contracts expired on Sept. 10. The negotiations cover the Basic Agreement, which applies to 13 Los Angeles-based locals, as well as the companion Area Standards Agreement, which applies to locals across the country. Some members have argued that 10-hour turnarounds — which many workers already receive — are not enough, and that they would vote against ratifying a deal unless the turnarounds are longer.
The membership received a terse update after 11 p.m. on Friday night, stating only that “Bargaining has concluded for the night and will resume tomorrow morning.”
The union has scheduled solidarity events in New York, Chicago and Atlanta this weekend, and was also recruiting strike captains to organize picketing if a deal could not be concluded by 12:01 a.m. PT on Monday.
IATSE International chief Matt Loeb stressed his “commitment to a deal” but also the memberships’ willingness to go out in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday. Multiple sources said hours were spent on Friday on working out the specifics of meal plan adjustments, rest breaks and between-shift turnaround times.
Another sticking point for IATSE was the long-standing “New Media” clause that has allowed some of the emerging streaming giants (those with fewer than 20 million domestic subscribers) to pay lower residual fees than established broadcast and cable networks and larger streamers. Those residual fees are paid out by production companies to help fund IATSE’s pension and health plan. IATSE pushed for an end to all such discounts, noting that “new media” is an anachronism in 2021. The resolution on the issue that involves Apple TV Plus, Paramount Plus, Peacock and other smaller streamers, is still unclear.
Industry sources cited Disney’s Rice as one of a handful of executive insiders, including former Directors Guild of America president Jay Roth, who helped Lombardini get leaders of the AMPTP member companies to focus on the talks and to realize the severity of the strike threat. Roth was said to have been a key liaison for the studios and IATSE. The union already had tapped Ziffren, a famously savvy dealmaker with decades of Hollywood labor experience, as a consultant in the talks.