Hollywood might be the most unionized town in America, with one of the few remaining industries where there’s a shop collecting dues from almost everyone. So as we celebrate this Labor Day, it’s worth remembering that unions created the middle class; crusaded for Social Security and Medicare; pushed through the 40-hour week, overtime pay, the minimum wage and paid vacations; campaigned for civil rights; won the right to collectively bargain and the right to strike; fought for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation, pensions and employee health coverage; and pushed through laws against child labor and sweatshop working conditions. And gave us the weekend.
More than a dozen unions – and hundreds of locals — represent nearly 500,000 members working in the entertainment industry throughout the country. The IATSE alone has some 500 locals representing cameramen, editors, grips, prop makers, animators, hair stylists and makeup artists, sound technicians, art directors, costumers, stagehands and all the other behind-the-scenes crafts.
According to latest documents the unions file with the U.S. Department of Labor, there are:
• 156,894 voting members of SAG-AFTRA
• 118,829 members of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
• 78,764 members of American Federation of Musicians
• 43,076 members of Actors Equity
• 21,162 members of the Writers Guild of America West
• 15,114 members of the Directors Guild of America
• 7,259 members of the American Guild of Musical Artists
• 4,261 members of Teamsters Local 399
• 3,718 members of the WGA East
• 2,624 members of the American Guild of Variety Artists
• 630 members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 40
Then there are some 12,000 members of NABET-Communications Workers of America; more than 6,000 members of the Producers Guild of America (though it’s technically not a union); nearly 2,000 members of Plumbers Local 78; about 1,100 members of Studio Utility Employees Local No. 724; some 270 members of Plasterers & Cement Masons Local 755, and 79 members of the industry’s smallest union, the Guild of Italian American Actors.
Although often maligned today by conservatives, Tea Partiers, free-market ideologues and Fox News, the important role unions have played (and still play) in American life has been recognized throughout modern history. So in the spirit of fraternity, brotherhood and sisterhood, Deadline presents a few notable observations on the importance of unions and the trade union movement:
The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds. — Abraham Lincoln, March 21, 1864
The labor movement is people. Our unions have brought millions of men and women together, made them members one of another, and given them common tools for common goals. Their goals are goals for all America – and their enemies are the enemies of all progress. — John F. Kennedy, campaigning for president in Detroit, September 5, 1960
The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, October 7, 1965, 2 1/2 years before he was assassinated while visiting Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers.
The road to social justice for the farm worker is the road of unionization. — Cesar Chavez, April 16, 1969
Workers and their trade unions are at the economic heart of our country. — Nelson Mandela, May 1, 1998
Join the union, girls, and together say, ‘Equal pay for equal work!’ — Susan B. Anthony, March 18, 1869
It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic nation that it have free and independent labor unions. — Franklin D. Roosevelt, addressing a Teamsters convention in Washington, September 11, 1940
I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and, also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field. — Albert Einstein, on why he was a charter member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 552
We know that freedom has many dimensions. It is the right of the man who tills the land to own the land; the right of the workers to join together to seek better conditions of labor. — Robert F. Kennedy, August 7, 1962
Today in America, unions have a secure place in our industrial life. Only a handful of unreconstructed reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice. — Dwight D. Eisenhower, addressing the American Federation of Labor on September 17, 1952, while campaigning for president
It is essential that there should be organizations of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes, and therefore labor must organize. — Theodore Roosevelt, speaking in Milwaukee on October 14, 1912, a few minutes after he’d been wounded in a failed assassination attempt
One of the most elemental human rights – the right to belong to a free trade union. — Ronald Reagan, the only U.S. president ever to have been president of a union, the Screen Actors Guild, on December 31, 1981
Workmen ought to organize themselves into strong labor unions. — Mahatma Gandhi, November 2, 1920
It was working men and women who made the 20th Century the American century. It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label. — Barack Obama, September 6, 2010