Hollywood union workers vote to authorize an industry-wide strike

Hollywood is set to grind to a halt: 60,000 movie and TV backstage workers authorize industry-wide strike over low pay and marathon work days

  • Hollywood union workers have voted overwhelmingly to authorize an industry-wide strike
  • Over the weekend, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or the IATSE, said that 90% of eligible voters cast ballots
  • More than 98% workers were in support of strike authorization 
  • In September, the IATSE asked tens of thousands of their 150,000 union members to authorize a strike during an emergency virtual town hall
  • The vote would allow Matthew Loeb, president of IATSE to order the strike if given the green light 
  • Workers in the historic Hollywood crafts union are frustrated with low pay and marathon workdays, and want greater compensation for streaming projects
  • The union is also seeking ‘meaningful improvements in rest periods’ and increased wages for crafts that have hourly rates of less than $18 an hour 

After months of negotiations, Hollywood union workers have voted overwhelmingly to authorize an industry-wide strike which is set to grind movie and TV production to a halt.

Over the weekend, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or the IATSE, said that 90% of 60,000 eligible voters cast ballots, with more than 98% in support of strike authorization.  In total, the union acts on behalf of 150,000 crew members in the U.S. and Canada.

It is the first time in its 128-year history that the union has authorized a strike, according to CNBC. 

‘The members have spoken loud and clear,’ said Matthew Loeb, president of IATSE in a statement Monday. ‘This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry.’

Loeb added: ‘Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage.″ 

After months of negotiations, Hollywood union workers have voted overwhelmingly to authorize an industry-wide strike

The vote would allow union president Matthew D. Loeb to order the strike

In September, the IATSE asked tens of thousands of their 150,000 union members to authorize a strike during an emergency virtual town hall.

The vote would allow Loeb to order the strike if given the green light. 

What’s more, workers would be polled ‘nationwide,’ according to the union, which represents crew members including grips, cinematographers, editors, costumers, hairstylists and more. 

The decisive move from union officials comes after four months of increasingly embittered negotiations between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

After months of back-and-forth, both bodies failed to come to a consensus on a contract.

IATSE members say they’ve reached this point due to a confluence of unsatisfactory circumstances, like being forced to undergo intensive production schedules following the lapse in work brought on by the pandemic, and a new climate where workers are willing to share negative experiences through social media. 

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees members are fed-up with paltry pay and marathon workdays that have only worsened after workers returned to their respective crafts after the pandemic

Workers in the historic Hollywood crafts union are fed-up with paltry pay and marathon workdays that have only worsened after workers returned to their respective crafts after the pandemic 

Streaming studios like Netflix, Disney, Hulu, HBO, Amazon, and Paramount have failed to come to an agreement with the IATSE concerning wages

Workers in the historic Hollywood crafts union are fed-up with paltry pay and marathon workdays that have only worsened after workers returned to their respective crafts after the pandemic, and are seeking stricter penalties on their employers for missed meal breaks, more substantial rest periods, and greater compensation for streaming projects and weekend assignments.

IATSE members also are striving to increase wages for crafts that have contractual minimum hourly rates of less than $18 an hour, as well as increased contributions to health and pension plans.

The union recently revealed that producers like Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney refused to respond to its latest proposals after the union’s contract expired earlier this month.

‘This failure to continue negotiating can only be interpreted one way,’ the IATSE said in a statement Monday. ‘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,’ the statement declared. 

The contract affects more than 43,000 of workers in the film and entertainment industry, working in live theater, motion picture and television production, trade shows and exhibitions, television broadcasting, and concerts – as well as the equipment and construction shops that support those industries.

Donna Young of IATSE Local 700 Motion Picture Editors Guild, writes a message of “fair wages for all” on a union member’s car during a rally at the Motion Picture Editors Guild IATSE Local 700 on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 in Los Angeles, California 

The 4th Annual Women’s March gathered at Columbus Circle in NYC, January 18, 2020. Women members of the IATSE Union were represented

The union is also in the midst of negotiating another contract, which affects 17,000 of their members working outside of the Los Angeles and New York regions.

These 60,000 members could be asked to cast their votes as soon as October 1, a person with knowledge of the process but not authorized to comment told The LA Times.

Studios, however, have so far not been receptive to the union’s demands – citing costs they have racked up as a result of the pandemic. 

They are instead looking for concessions from the union, such as less pay for work on streaming shows than for shows that air on TV, eliminated financial penalties for missed meal breaks, and an increase in the number of hours worked that are needed to qualify for health benefits.

In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it had ‘listened and addressed’ many of the union’s demands, including increasing minimum pay rates for certain types of new-media productions and footing the bill for a nearly $400-million pension and health-plan deficit.

‘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 organization said. 

‘In choosing to leave the bargaining table to seek a strike authorization vote, the IATSE leadership walked away from a generous comprehensive package.’

If the union does elect to have a vote for a strike, and that vote is indeed successful, a widespread walkout by IATSE members will not necessary follow – but it does gives union leaders more wiggle-room in talks with studios, as they would then have the legal ability to cease work on productions at a crucial time.

Producers, on the other hand, are fervently attempting to restructure and remarket various projects delayed by the pandemic, and reallocate resources to now-surging streaming platforms. 

The proposed vote – which would happen electronically –  requires 75% approval of all ballots received and a simple majority of delegates in the bargaining unit. 

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