Stalled negotiations for a new IATSE basic agreement are set to resume on June 26 – just days before the July 31 expiration of the current contract. Long hours, safety and pension and health benefits are the union’s chief concerns. An industrywide strike, if it comes to that, would be the first in the union’s 125-year history.

Bargaining with management’s Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers began April 2 but broke off just three days later. They are seeking a new contract covering some 43,000 behind-the-scenes workers who are members of 13 Hollywood locals, including three national locals: Cinematographers Guild Local 600, Editors Guild Local 700 and Art Directors Guild Local 800.

“On April 5, we put the negotiations on hold when it became clear that the employer was not prepared to address our key priorities of safety, sustainability and equity,” the Cinematographers Guild said in a recent communique to its members. “We will resume negotiations on June 26, 27 & 28.”

Long hours, in which 16- and 18-hour workdays are not uncommon, has long been a concern to many members of the union. In 1997, camera assistant Brent Hershman was killed in a traffic accident on his way home from a 19-hour day on the set of Pleasantville. And in 2014, transportation driver Gary Joe Tuckman was killed after falling asleep at the wheel after working an 18-hour day on the set of Longmire. After Tuckman’s fatal crash, the show’s producers adopted new measures to help ensure the safety of their crew by providing charter buses to take them to and from remote shooting locations.

Famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler even made a documentary about the dangers of long hours in the movie industry called Who Needs Sleep?

“We believe the decades-old challenge of unsafe hours is critical and that this negotiation offers our best opportunity to have it addressed in a meaningful and comprehensive way,” the Cinematographers Guild told its members. “We are fully committed to fighting for a healthy productive workplace where every crew member has the reasonable expectation of a safe work environment and a safe drive home. Safety should never be reduced to an economic issue.”

Rescuing the union’s underfunded pension plan is another top priority. Last year, the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan had $3.7 billion in assets and $5.1 billion in liabilities. Funded at only 72%, it was the most underfunded of all the industry’s multi-employer pension plans.

IATSE Local 600

“Sustainability of our benefit plans remains paramount,” the Cinematographers Guild told its members. “Adequately funding MPI requires three things: ongoing employer contributions, dependable investment income and payments linked to distribution (aka residuals).  The evolving landscape of our industry has created new distribution opportunities which in turn have created the need for a funding structure that aligns with those new opportunities.  As the industry evolves we must claim our share of that future, specifically by replacing funding sources that will become obsolete over time (e.g. DVDs).

“Ensuring that ongoing funding stream now decreases the possibility of higher eligibility requirements and increased out of pocket expenses in the future.  The DGA and WGA fought and achieved their piece of the new distribution models and we deserve the same outcome.”

The union also wants more “equity” in the industry standards for those employed in New Media. “Equity is also a key issue in these talks. Members of the IATSE sit at the epicenter of digital technology. The contributions of IATSE members have allowed this area to thrive. The next step must be about applying industry standard conditions to this work – including health and pension benefits – for all new media productions.”

The union added: “Bargaining will resume, and we plan to return to the table dedicated to reaching an agreement. That is our intent and our goal. Now is the moment to claim our piece of a safe, sustainable and equitable future.”