Following a breakdown in negotiations between production companies and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) last month, the labor union representing over 150,000 television, film, and theater crew members across the U.S. and Canada voted this weekend to authorize the union’s International President Matthew Loeb to call for a strike, if deemed necessary.
In a vote that saw a turnout of 89.66 percent, 98.68 percent of respondents (or 52,706 members) voted yes to authorize a strike. What follows next could be unprecedented for film, TV, and theater productions.
Why Hollywood Crew Members Need To Strike
While IATSE leaders had emphasized that a majority yes vote will not lead to an immediate call for action, the results of the vote do give the union more leverage to move forward in continued bargaining with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The AMPTP represents Hollywood’s megacorporations, including Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros, Amazon, Apple, and Netflix.
43,000 IATSE members work in Hollywood, with around 60,000 affected by the Producer-IATSE Basic Agreement and the Theatrical and Television Motion Picture Area Standards Agreement. The agreements cover the work of pretty much everyone working offscreen: hairstylists, costumers, editors, lighting technicians, cinematographers, camera operators, and more. After the agreements were extended through September, the AMPTP refused to counteroffer IATSE’s latest demands during negotiations to renew the contracts.
Demands include better standards to improve workplace safety, reasonable hours and breaks during workdays, and a wage that reflects the changing conditions of production schedules and costs-of-living in Los Angeles. For many, 12-, 16-, and even 20-hour workdays have become expectations, an issue compounded by a lack of rest days. Part of IATSE’s calls would cement weekends off, dissuade studios from skipping meal breaks, and establish a minimum amount of time off between shoots so that crew members can eat, sleep, see their families, and avoid burnout.
The new contracts also seek to provide members a living wage by reclassifying streaming productions, which are currently considered “New Media.” The designation has been exploited to employ lower minimum wages toward crew despite the increase in streaming production budgets over the past decade, according to Variety. Additional coverage from the Hollywood Reporter reveals long hours and low wages remain common for script coordinators and writers’ assistants, often with little feasible room for long-term advancement.
MORE FROM THE WEB
We don’t know exactly what a strike will look like for any parties involved—or for consumers—as IATSE has never had to strike in its 128-year history. Business Insider notes that a strike would have “a rolling effect on productions coast-to-coast,” more likely to impact live shows and soap operas in the daytime. Over time, these snags could hit films and other larger, long-term ventures. Given delays already resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s possible that a strike could further impact shooting deadlines, and thus pushing back TV and film releases.
Variety reports that chapters affected by the Basic Agreement include camera operators, cinematographers, and editors around the country, so a strike would halt U.S. production nationwide. “If they walk out, no one would be able to hold a camera on a set in the U.S.,” the publication reports. While the agreements do not apply to Canada, relocating production to the nation would be complicated by existing unionization in the country’s filmmaking industry, including representation by IATSE.
While the impact of an impending strike is far-reaching, not all productions crewed by IATSE members will be affected. Broadway will largely see no changes as its productions fall outside the Basic Agreement and Area Standards Agreement. While a strike would still impact filming of Broadway musicals, Broadways News reports that only one production—Waitress—was scheduled to record amid the labor conflict, and it would be completed before the vote was held. That said, it is still possible union members working in theaters from Broadway to the Met could strike or take other actions in solidarity with Hollywood crews.
Deadline reports striking would not necessarily impact productions covered by other agreements, like the Low Budget Theatrical Agreement (low budget equating to under $1.2 million), the Non-Standard Television (Pay-TV) Agreement, and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) Commercial Production Agreement. IATSE also has separate agreements with HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, and BET that will keep those crews working during a potential strike. Still, these members were a part of the almost-unanimous vote to authorize a strike, proving solidarity among workers across the industry is strong.
Several other film and TV trade unions have vocalized their support for IATSE’s reasonable demands to improve work conditions, including the Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild of America, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and more. Individual names on set and off have thrown their support behind calls for solidarity on social media, including actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Danny DeVito and politicians Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and many more.
Consumers and non-union members can voice their support for fair-working conditions in the industry by signing an IATSE-organized petition addressed to AMPTP. At time of writing, IATSE has collected over 117,000 signatures.
Update Oct. 4 4:03pm CT: Additional context added regarding an IATSE strike’s potential consumer impact and IATSE’s industry presence.