For many Hollywood crew members who work behind the scenes on film and television productions, the last year’s COVID lockdown was the first time that they were able to rest.
Since August of this year, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees—which is composed of camera operators, makeup artists, costume designers, sound mixers, and more—have been anonymously sharing harrowing stories via the Instagram account @ia_stories about the harsh work conditions they face on set. No two stories are the same, but they share a similar sentiment: below-the-line crew are expected to work extremely long hours for low wages without meal breaks or time to rest.
After months of talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers—the trade association responsible for negotiating all industry-wide guild and union contracts—with no resolve over an updated contract that meets their demands, members of the IATSE are voting on whether to authorize the first nationwide strike in the union’s history. They are asking for higher pay, a larger cut of the profits from streaming productions, larger contributions to health and pension plans, and improved rest periods and meal breaks.
Some 60,000 members of the IATSE received ballots on Friday morning and they have until 9 p.m. on Sunday night to cast their ballot, Variety reports. The purpose of the vote is to give the union’s president, Matthew Loeb, the right to authorize a strike. The results are expected to be announced on Monday.
Assuming the vote passes and Loeb moves forward with the walkout, it could lead to the biggest industry demonstration among Hollywood production workers since World War II, the Los Angeles Times reports. A strike would halt a vast majority of TV and film production, not just in Los Angeles, but nationwide. (Some networks like HBO, Showtime, BET, and Starz, are covered under separate IATSE contracts, which remain in place, Entertainment Weekly reports.)
Loeb, who has been the president of the union for 13 years, told the Times, that he’s confident the vote will pass.
“I can’t tell you it’s going to be unanimous, but I expect overwhelming support and I expect the strike authorization vote to pass,” he said. “We’re in a campaign to turn people out to vote and to convince them to vote in favor of the strike authorization. I would say to them it’s about their lives and their quality of life and the quality of life for those people that work with them, and it’s time to take a stand. It’s been going on since mid-May, which is a long time to bargain, historically, for us.”
He continues, “We’ve had very difficult negotiations in the past, but we’ve always been able to reach an agreement, and that’s still our goal.”
According to Deadline, the AMPTP said Thursday that it remains “committed to reaching an agreement at the bargaining table,” but accused the union of “publishing false information about the negotiations” that “unnecessarily polarizes the bargaining parties and elevates tensions at a time when we should be focused on finding ways to avoid a strike.”
In a statement, the AMPTP said, “A strike will have a devastating impact on the industry and inevitably will result in thousands of IATSE members losing their income, failing to qualify for health insurance benefits, jeopardizing funding for the pension plan and disrupting production. The Producers are committed to reaching an agreement at the bargaining table that balances the needs of both parties and will keep the industry working.”
On the contrary, many Hollywood stars have shown their support via social media for the IATSE’s effort, including actors Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Ben Stiller, Kerry Washington, and Seth Rogen.
Little Fires Everywhere star Washington tweeted: “There are so many talented humans who make the movies and TV shows we love! You may not see them on screen but they are the magic makers and the glue that holds any set together. I urge the #IATSE to hear them. And I stand with my brothers & sisters in this strike #IASolidarity.”
Actors Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin raised their fists in support of the movement in a photo posted on Instagram and The Morning Show actor Mindy Kaling tweeted: “The crews are the backbones of our industry. First ones in, last ones out. They deserve safe conditions and attainable health care. I stand with @IATSE.”
Politicians have also spoken out about the IATSE’s movement, NBC News reports. Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents areas including Burbank and Hollywood, where a majority of T.V. and film productions are shot, and Sen. Alex Padilla, along with 118 other members of Congress sent a letter Thursday to the president of the AMPTP urging for the association to negotiate fairer contracts with Hollywood workers.
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“The key issues in this negotiation, as we’ve come to understand them, are about worker dignity and basic human necessities,” the letter states. “We are unified in our belief in the importance of living wages, sustainable benefits, and reasonable rest periods between shifts and during the work day.”
The congress member also wrote, “[IATSE] workers have risked their health and safety for the last year, working through the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the motion picture and television production industry emerged intact. Production has now returned to pre-pandemic level, due in no small part to the essential role these workers play in the creative processes.”
On Friday, former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted a video to show her support as well, in which she said, “IATSE, I’m with you. Shoulder to shoulder in this fight.”
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