IATSE president Matt Loeb and the leaders of 11 of the union’s 13 Hollywood locals have signed a letter urging their members to ratify the union’s new film and TV contract, saying that it will pump an additional $153 million in employer contributions to the union’s health plan. The agreement also will create “a new funding mechanism” for theatrical-length streaming content that they say will result in “additional monies for our pension plan.”
Cathy Repola, executive director of Editors Guild Local 700, didn’t sign the letter because she has broken ranks and is urging her members to reject the contract, calling it “a totally unnecessary” and “unacceptable agreement.” One other signature is noticeably absent from the Loeb letter as well – that of Leslie Simon, business rep of Script Supervisors Local 871 — though she too is recommending that her members ratify the new contract. Simon did not return calls for comment.
“When we send out the ratification vote, I urge you to vote yes to approve this deal,” Simon told her members. “You should not vote against this deal unless you are ready to strike, and believe that the vast majority of your colleagues are ready to do the same. This is not a step that you should take lightly.”
A grassroots effort to reject the contract is underway, but Simon urged her members to be cautious. “I understand that there is a lot of chatter on social media about how bad this agreement is,” she wrote. “Whether we achieved enough to avoid a strike, and to keep you all working, is ultimately your decision. I don’t advocate lightly for striking and believe that strikes take a lot of internal organizing prior to negotiations in order to be successful. I urge you all to take time in considering what a strike would mean for you and your families and weigh that against what is missing from this deal.”
Ultimately, she wrote, “This contract includes numerous improvements, some of which are on breakthrough issues. I believe that ultimately it is in our best interest to accept this deal, continue working, and move on to fight the next battle.”
In a separate letter to his members, Steven Poster, president of Cinematographers Guild Local 600, said that IATSE “came away with what we believe is a good, solid contract for our members that we can build on in the future. Most importantly, we made progress in key areas that members told us were essential to them without giving anything back: wages, benefits and safety.
“No local got everything they wanted,” he added, “but no local was forced to give anything up and no local was left behind. That was a breakthrough. Now our challenge is to build upon the foundation we’ve laid and identify a path forward.”
One thing the union didn’t get was pay equity for members employed in historically female crafts. Sources say that it wasn’t even raised during the negotiations. Going into the talks, Script Supervisors Local 871 members had launched a campaign to urge management’s AMPTP to address the issue, and a member-driven petition in support of pay equity for art department coordinators – who are part of Local 871 – was signed by more than 2,300 union members who say “it’s time for pay equity.”
“The agreement includes a number of significant improvements that we have sought for many years,” Simon told Local 871 members. “While this agreement certainly doesn’t address all of the issues facing our membership, most significantly the pay inequities that our members face based on working in predominantly female classifications, it includes significant improvements with only a couple of small concessions to the employers.” One of those concessions to management’s Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force – which Simon noted “is actually a good thing.”
Then she added that “the issue of inequitably low compensation for our historically female dominated crafts will need to be addressed by our continuing campaign for Gender Pay Equity. “I urge you all to get actively involved!”
In their letter, Loeb and the other 11 local leaders said, “After months of numerous and difficult bargaining sessions, the IATSE West Coast Studio Locals overwhelmingly stand side-by-side in recommending the agreement,” which was reached in the early morning hours of July 26. “The tentative agreement improves wages and working conditions while also securing the health of the benefit funds for over 40,000 IATSE members and their families. We made these advancements with no increase in out-of-pocket healthcare costs to members, no reduction in the quality of members’ healthcare, and no decline in members’ working conditions.”
In addition to Loeb, the letter was signed by:
- Ed Brown, business agent, Prop Local 44
- Thom Davis, business agent, Grips Local 80
- Rebecca Rhine, national executive director, Cinematographers Guild Local 600
- Scott Bernard, business agent, Sound Local 695
- David Swope, business agent, Costumers Local 705
- Tommy Cole, business agent, Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild Local 706
- Patric Abaravich, business rep, Set Lighting Local 728
- Robert Denne, business agent, Set Painters & Sign Writers Local 729
- Chuck Parker, national executive director, Art Directors Local 800
- Doug Boney, business agent, Studio Teachers Local 884
- Rachael Stanley, executive director, Costume Designers Guild Local 892
Another key issue in the negotiations was the union’s proposal for 10-hour turnarounds between shifts to address the industry’s brutally long workdays. Loeb, who has called the new deal “a huge victory,” joined the 11 local leaders in saying that “Quality of life improvements were also of paramount importance and our gains will mean more personal time and safer working conditions. For hourly and weekly on-production and off-production employees on one-hour dramatic and half-hour single-camera series beyond season one and mini-series, a minimum daily ten-hour turnaround will become the new standard for local and nearby hires. Crew members with less than a 10-hour turnaround will receive an improved rest period on feature and long-form productions after the second consecutive 14-hour day.”
West Coast members of the Editors Guild, however, only got a nine-hour turnaround – one hour less than all the other locals. And Repola told her members that “an additional hour of straight time pay is the only penalty if the ninth hour is invaded.”
The new shorter-hours provision doesn’t apply to pilots and first season episodics, and only to those employed on feature films and longform TV shows who work two consecutive 14-hour days. And it doesn’t apply at all to on-call employees, who are not regularly employed by a production but are called to work on a temporary basis.
The exclusion of pilots and first season TV series from this provision “is a major problem,” Simon said in her letter, which was provided to Deadline by a Local 871 member. “The industry wouldn’t budge” on this, she wrote. “The question becomes: Do we accept the improvement on the many shows this will cover, or do we prepare for a strike on this issue? To be successful, a decision to strike would need overwhelming support from the majority of locals and overwhelming support of our members. Frankly, I don’t know if we’re there. And, even if we were to go out on strike over this issue, there is no guarantee of the outcome.”
Loeb and the 11 local leaders said that “Over the past three years (and even in recent months) we have all witnessed deep changes occurring in all sectors of the entertainment industry. We are in an era of dramatic transformation, and these changing dynamics are expected to continue on an industry-wide scale. To adapt and meet these new circumstances, we had ambitious goals for the 2018 Basic Agreement, each one fundamental to improving the lives and futures of IATSE members.”
Going into the talks, they said, the union sought to:
- Secure wage increases of 3% per year
- Protect our health and pension plans
- Increase benefit contributions from all employers, including those producing streaming content
- Improve safety and quality of life
- Improve rest periods
- Expand and improve wages, terms and conditions for work on streaming platforms
“We are proud to say the tentative agreement achieved this and more,” they said in their letter. “Multiple improvements were negotiated for wages, terms and conditions covering a wide range of budget thresholds for streaming content. New media features over $30 million will be produced under the full Basic Agreement, instead of the long-form side-letter, and a new mid-range new media budget tier has been added, capturing wages, terms and conditions for work that was previously fully negotiable.”
The main issue in the negotiations was funding for the union’s underfunded pension plan, which is fast approaching “critical” status, in part because it receives no residuals payments from shows airing on streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.
With regard to the pension plan, Loeb and the 11 local leaders said that management’s AMPTP agreed to a “lump-sum payment on live action and animated streaming features, when also released theatrically. This is in addition to an existing residual that is triggered when traditional content moves to online platforms, which produced over $90 million in funding for the Pension Plan in 2017.”
Repola, however, isn’t so sure the pension plan will be rescued by the new agreement. “A new ‘New Media Residual’ is included, but it is not what the other guilds – DGA, WGA, SAG-AFTRA – received,” she told her members, “and it is impossible to put a value on it. You will likely hear overestimated numbers as to what this proposal is worth, but anyone who tells you for the next contract cycle what it’s worth is guessing.”
Simon, however, said she’s in agreement with Loeb and the other local leaders on the pension issue. “A number of new funding sources for the plans were agreed to,” she wrote. “While the employers did not agree to the residuals structure for reuse negotiated with the above-the-line guilds, which would have been unprecedented for our union, our MPI trustees believe that the increased contributions will keep the plans sustainable during this agreement and beyond. I am not a trustee, but I have complete faith in those that are. They are as concerned about ensuring the long-term health of our plans as is anyone else.”
The new pact calls for additional funding from streaming shows: live-action features of 96 minutes or longer with budgets of at least $30 million will generate a 5.4 % contribution of straight time earnings to be paid by the employers to the pension plan when released theatrically, and animated features with budgets of at least $45 million will generate an 3.6% employer contribution to the plan.
An additional $0.75 per hour worked will also be contributed to the health plan for signatories other than the major studios and their designated entities. Loeb and the others said that “This is necessary as the non-studio affiliated employers (i.e. Netflix, Cranetown Media, CMS, Picrow) don’t pay residuals and are being subsidized by the studios. This is significant additional money into the plans.”
An additional employer contribution $0.20 per hour in the first year, and then an additional $0.10 per hour in years two and three of the contract, will be contributed to the health plan by the major studios and affiliated entities.
“By structuring the increased benefit contributions in this way,” Loeb and the other leaders said, “we will secure more money to fund the plans from content produced for streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, and reduce the subsidy for companies that have no residual obligations.”
“We went into bargaining focused on protecting the pension and health plan, and this tentative agreement achieves our goals,” they said. “There will be no cuts to pension and health benefits under this agreement. Your bargaining committee made significant progress on each of our key priorities. For this reason, the West Coast Studio Locals overwhelmingly endorse this agreement.”
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