Hollywood studios and a union that represents about 150,000 off-screen workers will head back to the negotiating table Tuesday after workers voted to authorize a strike that threatens to bring the industry to a halt.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said Monday that its 60,000 members who are covered by the current production contracts being renegotiated voted overwhelmingly to authorize the strike.
More than 98 percent of ballots cast were in support of authorizing a strike, the union said.
“The members have spoken loud and clear,” Matthew Loeb, president of IATSE, said 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. 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.”
The vote allows IATSE to initiate a strike if it’s unable to make progress on contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents major film and television production companies.
It’s the first time in the union’s 128-year history that members of the union have authorized a nationwide strike, which could bring the industry to a grinding halt, delaying production and pushing back release dates, the group said.
“I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members,” Loeb said. “The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.“
AMPTP said Monday in a statement that it’s committed to avoiding a strike and reaching a deal on contracts that will keep the industry going.
“We deeply value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the group said.
The AMPTP said reaching a deal “will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues.”
IATSE’s contract with the AMPTP went into effect in 2018 and was slated to end on July 31, though it was extended until Sept. 10.
The union is now seeking higher pay, more meal breaks, more rest time between shifts, better contributions to health and pension plans, as well as an update to contracts that reflects the success of streaming productions in the industry.
Since the 2000s, IATSE’s contracts with AMPTP have referred to streaming projects as “new media” and the union “recognized that the economics of New Media were ‘uncertain’ and that greater flexibility in terms of conditions of employment were ‘mutually beneficial,’” according to a statement from August.
“That is simply no longer the case, and the benefits are no longer ‘mutual,’” the statement goes on.
“It is time for employers to recognize the superseding concept they negotiated that same year, that if and when ‘New Media productions became an economically viable medium, then the parties would mutually recognize that fact in future agreements.’”
As a result of those legacy contract clauses, some workers on streaming projects “are not even paid a specific scale wage or credited with pension hours,” IATSE said.
Last month, for example, IATSE said that Apple claimed its streaming service had fewer than 20 million subscribers so that it could pay its behind-the-scenes workers less.
The union hopes to update its contracts to reflect that “New Media is just Media.”
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