OK, entertainment junkies, be prepared to go into withdrawal.
Just when COVID-19 helped us develop a newfound appreciation for – if not an outright dependence on – small- and big-screen entertainment, an industry strike may cause production to grind to a halt.
Unionized workers in charge of rigging lights, styling hair, making sets and just about everything else non-acting related voted recently to authorize a strike. And on Wednesday, the organization announced that if ongoing talks with the producers’ union do not yield an agreement soon, workers will stop doing their jobs come Monday.
At issue are better working conditions, say leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. An overwhelming majority of union workers voted yes to strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
IATSE president Matthew Loeb said in a statement Wednesday that the union will continue bargaining with the producers this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement that addresses core issues, such as reasonable rest periods, meal breaks, and a living wage for those on the bottom of the wage scale.
“However, the pace of bargaining doesn’t reflect any sense of urgency,” Loeb said. “Without an end date, we could keep talking forever. Our members deserve to have their basic needs addressed now.”
Many stars have been steadfast in their support of the strike. Actor Bradley Whitford wrote on Twitter Wednesday that “Hollywood seems totally unaware that @IATSE was forced by AMPTP’s intransigence and greed to authorize a strike that could start on Monday. No one in AMPTP would put up with the working conditions they inflict on the people who make our industry possible. No one. #iStandWithIATSE.”
Members of the crew union have been vocal on social media about the need for producers to pay more attention to the lives of those working behind the scenes.
“How am I supposed to have a family while working 12+ hours a day (even longer when you add commuting)?” wrote would-be striker Kirsten Thorson on Instagram. “I love my job in the film industry but the industry doesn’t love me back.”
There are hints that some showrunners and directors are already heeding the complaints of crews.
On the Instagram account IATSE Stories, where members can post comments anonymously, one person wrote that “the director on the show I’m on follows this page and after reading how the crew gets treated, has made it a POINT to wrap before we hit 10hrs everyday, not even 12.”
Top actors have come out in support of the strike in past weeks, knowing that their jobs wouldn’t exist without the armies behind them. And most are themselves part of their own union, the Screen Actors Guild.
“I just spent 9 months working with an incredibly hard working crew of film makers through very challenging conditions,” Ben Stiller wrote on Twitter. “Totally support them in fighting for better conditions.”
But supporting Hollywood crews does not mean all productions would stop. First, there are a number of union contracts that are still in effect for another year, such as the one covering pay services such as HBO.
The contract that expired several months ago and led to this negotiation stalemate is focused in part on streaming services such as Netflix, who were issued more generous terms because the future of such services wasn’t known back when the ink dried on theatrical alliance’s New Media deal in 2009.
Industry experts still feel a shutdown might be avoided given what’s at stake for producers and workers alike, says Thomas Lenz, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law and partner at Pasadena-based Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.
“Producers don’t really want a disruption in the product they put out, and workers don’t want to go long without pay,” says Lenz.
We break down the plot:
Answer: For months, the production workers union has been trying to negotiate a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for its 150,000 workers. These include cinematographers, costumers, script supervisors and grips – essentially, the critical folks who allow the stars to shine. The union has never before gone on strike. If it does this time, an estimated 60,000 of those members currently on jobs are expected to stop working.
The parties have been talking for a while. The current contract was set to expire July 31, but as talks dragged on it was extended to Sept 10. Negotiations for a new three-year deal continued after that, eventually leading to this tense moment.
Lenz says the pandemic’s impact on work/life balance is also a factor. “If you’re working 10- and 12-hour days routinely, the pandemic may now have caused you to reassess your whole lifestyle and decide if you want to work the same way as you did in the past,” he says.
A: The theatrical alliance wants better working conditions and salaries, while the alliance of picture and TV producers feels the demands are too financially onerous for an industry that’s still reeling from the pandemic. A letter written by Loeb said the aim is “more humane working conditions across the industry, including reasonable rest during and between workdays and on the weekend, equitable pay on streaming productions, and a livable wage floor.” Under the current theatrical alliance New Media deal, for example, streaming services with fewer than 20 million subscribers pay lower wages. Also on the table: making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday for union workers.
“Employers, such as the producers guild here, go into things looking at everything as a cost item,” says Lenz. “But the times are a bit different now. Look at all the social justice protests over the past year and something like giving people MLK Day off makes sense. Most employers are waking up to that.”
A: Movies, network TV shows and Netflix productions would halt as they fall under the now-expired contract. That means any television series or reality show currently in production might be delivering repeat episodes to fans later this year or early next year.
But a number of popular premium-cable productions – and so-called low-budget theatrical fare – wouldn’t be stalled because that union contract is good until the end of 2022. Commercials also are safe. The theatrical alliance’s agreement with the Association of Independent Commercial Producers runs through Sept. 30, 2022.
“If you are working on commercials or for HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, BET or another company that has a contract still in effect – you must keep working,” the theatrical alliance informed members working on productions for those companies. “You will not be a scab!”
A: Would-be strikers have support on social media. Seth Rogen tweeted, “Our films and movies literally would not exist without our crews, and our crews deserve better.” “Grace and Frankie” co-stars Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda shared a photo of themselves on Instagram with raised fists while wearing union T-shirts. Whitford tweeted that negotiators for AMPTP “refuse to even discuss guaranteed meal breaks or 10 hour turnarounds. That’s nuts.”
I just spent 9 months working with an incredibly hard working crew of film makers through very challenging conditions. Totally support them in fighting for better conditions.#IATSE
A: Consider it another episode in a long-running series. In 1945, 10,500 members of the Confederation of Studio Unions went on strike, shutting down production on the David O. Selznick epic “Duel in the Sun,” starring Gregory Peck. Months went by without a resolution, culminating in riots in front of Warner Bros. studios. More recently, the Writers Guild of America struck in late 2007 for a larger percentage of show profits. The 14-week standoff halted the production of TV and movies. After its resolution, economists estimated that the strike cost the Los Angeles economy more than $1 billion.
A: With a time and date now set for a walk-out, the next few days of talks will be critical.There is an economic incentive to work out a deal. A recent report from the Motion Picture Association of America, using Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2016, indicated that the film and TV industry produces more than 2 million high-paying jobs that in turn funnel nearly $50 billion annually to businesses wherever content is being created.
IATSE strike: What it means for TV, movies if Hollywood shuts down – USA TODAY
OK, entertainment junkies, be prepared to go into withdrawal.