If Hollywood workers strike, the entertainment industry will shut down
On October 1, crew members for most union film and television productions in the United States will decide whether to strike for fair pay, adequate rest, and regular breaks – things that should be learned , but which are hard to find in Hollywood.
While streaming companies have posted record profits, grassroots union members have seen their quality of life eroded with stagnant wages and attacks on their health and pension plans. Skilled workers, years after the start of their careers, earn just over $ 15 an hour. Crew members share horror stories of car crashes after eighteen-hour days and health problems resulting from refusing to go to the bathroom.
If the workers vote “yes” on the authorization to strike ahead, the strike will be unprecedented for their union and important for the entire labor movement. The International Alliance of Theatrical Employees (IATSE) has never hit all of its West Coast residents at once. It is estimated that 60,000 IATSE members could quit their jobs in the coming weeks, which would be the largest private sector strike in the United States in more than a decade.
The strikers would include almost anyone who works on a film set in addition to directors, screenwriters and actors. In show business, we use the term “under the line” to describe this group, which includes cameramen, handles, costume designers, script supervisors, writing assistants, set decorators and many more. others. The term comes from the actual position of names on call sheets, where top directors, screenwriters and actors are placed “above the line.” Without the “below the line” workers, the movies and shows you watch would never be made.
Locals of IATSE have already struck. 1941 saw the famous Disney animators strike, triggered by Walt Disney’s failure to share the profits on White as snow. This era of activism in Tinseltown culminated in the 1945 strike of the nascent local set decorator, which is remembered as the most violent strike in Hollywood history.
Since then, the lingering post-blacklist anticommunism in industry and Reagan neoliberalism in society at large have led to a less militant climate. Even so, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has struck six times since WWII, while the cast has stepped out four times – once, ironically, led by Ronald Reagan himself, then chairman of the Screen Actors Guild. (SAG). The more boss-friendly Directors Guild of America (DGA) rang the bell only once, for a total of three hours and five minutes, about the length of lunch at the Ivy.
If the next IATSE strike authorization vote and subsequent negotiations result in a strike, it would be one of the largest in Hollywood history. And with so many different crafts, that would also be the most disruptive. Cinema and television in the United States would stop.
The Writers Guild of America “traditionally sets a pattern” for Hollywood – the DGA negotiates first, then the WGA comes second, but tends to negotiate more aggressively. Although WGA members and leaders were prepared to walk the picket line, they were unable to strike during their last contract negotiation, which sadly came at the height of COVID-19. As a result, IATSE has found itself in a unique position to set the tone for Hollywood work.
For months, thirteen West Coast residents have been negotiating with the Alliance of Film and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents companies like Disney, Amazon and Viacom. All reports indicate that the union and the bosses disagree on many points of negotiation. What is at stake in the deadlock is nothing less than the future of the industry in the age of streaming.
In the early 2000s, streaming services were classified as “new media” in various entertainment contracts because their future was seen as uncertain. While these companies’ footprints and profits have skyrocketed, the overly generous offers they received as “new media” companies have largely remained in place. As a result, streaming services have been able to offer lower wages, benefit from less restrictive rules and owe lower residues, even as they have replaced traditional film and television companies in terms of production and of income.
Workers in today’s entertainment industry are doing the same jobs as previous generations for less pay while companies show unprecedented profits. If you have worked on Friends, you probably own a house. If you are working on Wandavision, you are probably still a tenant.
Workers do not even know how many people are seeing the fruits of their labor. Tech companies notoriously protect their consumer data, and digital waste is often fixed quarterly payments rather than payments tied to actual audiences. The result is that someone who is working on a huge success like Strange things gets the same residual payout as someone who helped create a wonder of a quickly canceled season.
The rise of so-called new media has not only driven wages down in Hollywood, but has also put a strain on long-simmering quality of life issues. One of the key issues in these negotiations is “turnaround,” the term used by the industry to refer to the amount of time workers have between workdays. A minimum of ten hours is supposed to be mandatory for the crew, but this is often not respected. A popular graphic created by IATSE features a bloodshot eye and reads: “Give us a rest at night and on weekends. “
The locals of the film and lighting crew (Sections 600, 728 and 80) were particularly vocal on this issue. In a rare gesture, a group of fourteen best filmmakers, including Roger Deakins (There is no country for old people), Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (Bird man) and Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Flawless Spirit), recently wrote an open letter calling on AMPTP “to increase daily rest periods and introduce weekend rest periods to ensure the physical and mental health of every crew member.”
Having made my debut in venues and production, I can attest that fourteen hour days or more are normal for the course in Hollywood. The reality is that overtime penalties aren’t enough to deter producers from pushing teams to the brink.
Wages and working hours aren’t the only issues on the table. Each of the thirteen locals contains many trades, and all have their own bargaining points to address. Instagram account @ia_stories collected anonymous workplace horror stories from grassroots union members. The account has amassed over 90,000 subscribers at the time of writing. Her feed is full of shocking stories detailing what Hollywood workers put up with every day. If you scroll through their posts, you’ll see everything from production assistants who are asked to break the law to cameramen who are denied bathroom breaks.
Despite the appalling conditions many crew members face, studios are looking to curb existing benefits, citing the pandemic, even though Hollywood has maintained a healthy track record throughout the COVID-19 era. Several publications have reported that AMPTP is seeking to reduce pension contributions and so-called “meal penalties,” the fines that production companies must pay if they keep the team at work after scheduled meal breaks.
There is much on the table that is specific to the particular Hollywood work environment, but the themes of these negotiations echo other recent labor disputes across the country. The “disruption” of the tech industry has led bold corporate leadership to press the artisans and artists who create their media content. For example, Quibi’s fleeting business model relied on underpaying their teams, and imitators will certainly follow in its wake.
It is no coincidence that Hollywood also experienced the same spike in union activism and leftist politics that erupted in industries like education, journalism, logistics and hospitality. Tech-driven private equity overlords use the same playbook across industries.
An IATSE strike would be a culmination in the resurgence of work in Hollywood, but the trend of increasing activism in the entertainment industry has been evident for years.
Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)-backed city council candidate Nithya Raman toppled outgoing President David Ryu in Los Angeles’ Fourth District with strong support from workers in the entertainment industry. The organizer of UNITE HERE, Hugo Soto-Martinez, seeks to do the same in the next cycle of the 13th arrondissement.
TV scriptwriters’ assistants and script coordinators unionized following a successful IATSE 871 campaign in 2018. Unions like United Teachers of Los Angeles and UNITE HERE have relied on Hollywood workers in part of their coalitions during strikes and direct actions.
DSA members and coalition partners won seats on the boards of several unions. DSA-Los Angeles’s Hollywood Labor Project (DSA-LA) recently received a positive profile in the hollywood reporter, a publication that was once known for its red bait.
Whether or not the IATSE will strike remains uncertain. A majority of delegates from participating locals must vote in favor of the authorization, and local delegates can only support the authorization if 75 percent of the local votes vote “yes”. While Hollywood unions tend to get a high percentage of ‘yes’ votes – the 2017 WGA strike authorization passed with 96% of the vote in favor, while the 1980 SAG strike passed. seen 90% of its members vote for a strike – it is crucial that the union obtains an overwhelming majority before a potential strike.
In recent days, there has been a surge of support from local writers, actors, directors and politicians as the possibility of a strike looms. If the union goes on strike, it will have strong support from an increasingly radicalized Hollywood.
It remains to be seen whether AMPTP will give in to reasonable demands from the IATSE following an overwhelming majority strike authorization vote, or whether the union will be forced to resign. Either AMPTP will voluntarily recognize which way the wind is blowing, or the union will have to show them.