Hollywood’s Stagehands Are Set to Begin Strike Vote on Friday
(Bloomberg) -- One of Hollywood’s most powerful unions, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is set to begin a strike-authorization vote, a step toward a walkout that could cripple movie and TV studios still trying to come back from Covid-19 shutdowns.
Labor leaders are seeking shorter work hours as part of a new contract. Production schedules have been particularly grueling since the industry began reopening from pandemic-related shutdowns.
An estimated 60,000 IATSE members, mostly based in Los Angeles, could walk off the job if the union decides to take such action. Three of the union’s locals are actually national in scope, meaning a strike by those groups would halt work across the country, affecting almost 1 million jobs directly tied to film and TV production.
Even before filming resumed, production had surged with the popularity of streaming and heavy spending by both incumbent Hollywood studios and newer players like Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. A 7% drop in production last year, caused by Covid-19 shutdowns, was the first in more than a decade. Netflix and Walt Disney Co. have both cited the challenges of getting new content on their services as contributing to weaker-than-expected sign-ups for their streaming services.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, representing major studios including Netflix and Amazon, has said it “put forth a deal-closing, comprehensive proposal that meaningfully addresses the IATSE’s key bargaining issues.”
The union doesn’t see it that way.
‘Refused to Reply’
“As you may be aware, negotiations with the major producers have reached a standstill,” Loeb said in a Sept. 23 note to members. “They refused to reply to our last proposal.”
The key issues, the union says, are rest and meal breaks, and a higher wage for the lowest-paid workers, some of whom earn roughly $15 an hour. Members are also seeking more revenue from streaming services, as some of the new media jobs don’t pay the same wages or contribute to pensions like traditional film and TV work.
IATSE has never gone on strike, and a vote doesn’t guarantee it will.
The locals involved have the potential to cripple production. Local 600 represents about 9,600 camera operators and cinematographers in the U.S. Local 700 represents about 8,600 editors. Local 800 in the union represents about 3,000 production designers, art directors and others.
Parties on both sides of the bargaining table still have memories of a crippling writers strike 13 years ago that dragged on for 100 days. It cost the industry $2 billion, according to the Milken Institute, and was felt beyond the industry by a range of businesses, from restaurants to tailors, that rely on production for business.
A 2021 report from the Motion Picture Association estimated 2.5 million people worked in the U.S. film and television industry, with 910,000 of those positions directly related to production and distribution.
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