IATSE officials are reporting that “some progress was made” last week before negotiations for a new film and TV contract broke off, and that the union “remains committed to returning to the negotiating table in pursuit of a fair deal for the membership.” Talks with management’s AMPTP are scheduled to resume during the week of July 23 – just days before the July 31 expiration of the current contract, which covers some 43,000 members of 13 West Coast IATSE locals.
The main area of dispute is the union’s demand that shows created for streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu start paying residuals into its pension and health plans. “Streaming content must pay its fair share towards pension and healthcare for the industry,” leaders of IATSE Cinematographers Guild Local 600 said today in a communique to members. “As our industry evolves, we must be in a position to participate in its growth and evolution.”
A major source of income for the IATSE benefit plans comes from residuals. But unlike the talent guilds, whose members receive residuals directly when their work is shown in reruns or in supplemental markets, residuals are paid indirectly to below-the-line crews via contributions to their pension and health plans. But unlike films and broadcast and cable TV shows, streaming shows don’t pay any residuals into the IATSE plans.
In 2012, IATSE projected that residuals from DVD and Blu-ray sales, pay TV and other sources would generate nearly $1 billion in residuals through 2015. Since then, however, the DVD and Blu-ray sector has crashed, largely supplanted by streaming services.
The union says one of its top priorities is “funding our health and pension plans through a sustainable mechanism that aligns our funding structure with our evolving industry.” The pension plan, with $3.8 billion in assets and more than $5.6 billion in liabilities, was only 67.4% funded as of January 1, 2017, and is fast approaching “critical status,” which is reached when a plan falls below 65% funded. Over the past three years, its funding level has declined precipitously – falling from 80.8% in 2015 to 76.8% in 2016.
“The increase in content created for streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others has created a tremendous increase in work opportunities for our members,” Local 600 leaders told their members. “As this content increases proportionate to traditional media, the pressure on the pension and health plan grows. Pension cuts are NOT an acceptable solution to this problem.”
Union leaders noted that the Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plan “is funded by several elements, including participant premiums, employer contributions, investment income and payments linked to distribution (residuals). Currently, residuals are generated from traditionally-produced theatrical features and television. As the production of streaming content continues to grow, our residual structure must reflect this expanding market. For the health of our benefits plans, our funding streams must adapt to and align with current methods of production.”
Addressing the industry’s brutally long work hours is another goal of the union in these negotiations. “The safety and well-being of the membership is a top priority in these negotiations and we will continue to insist that our employers recognize this and begin to seriously address the issues of safety and fatigue,” Local 600 leaders told their members.
To address that problem – which is seen as a safety issue as well as a “quality of life” issue – the union says it’s proposed “reasonable turnaround that provides adequate rest for workers” and “sensible guaranteed options of housing or transportation for those too tired to drive.” IATSE is also seeking wage and benefit contribution increases and “more equitable wages and terms and conditions for streaming content below the threshold for high-budget SVOD.”