Hollywood is a union town, and the state of the unions is good, with room for improvement. Annual financial reports the unions file with the U.S. Department of Labor show that the big five – SAG-AFTRA, the WGA, the DGA, IATSE and Teamsters Local 399 – are all on solid financial footing. They could all cut back on non-essential expenses, however, such as flower arrangements and office parties.
There weren’t any major industry strikes in 2014, and none is expected next year. The only big contract up for renegotiation in 2015 will be IATSE’s basic agreement, and since the union never has launched an industry-wide Hollywood strike, don’t expect it to do so next year, either.
Emerging technologies – and the uncertainty they create about the revenue streams they promise to deliver – have been the flashpoints for nearly all the major strikes in Hollywood during the past 60 years. New media could have triggered a strike in 2014, but a work stoppage was averted when the DGA reached a deal with producers on new media that was adopted in quick succession by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.
Organizing reality shows is still the biggest challenge for all the industry’s unions, which made some important gains in this area in 2014 but still have a long way to go. Reality shows remain the last bastion of largely non-union work in the television industry — and probably will remain so for years to come.
Providing health benefits for their members is another daunting challenge for Hollywood’s unions, but the Affordable Care Act has made a huge difference for low-income union members who weren’t able to qualify for union health benefits.
Merging the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans is a huge issue for actors and probably will remain elusive next year as well, though the trustees are working on a way to merge the health plans. But because the two health plans are so different in their eligibility requirements and benefits, don’t expect everyone to be happy even if they’re someday merged.
Secrecy has become a major problem at nearly all the unions. Some secrecy, of course, is needed; no union would want management to know its bargaining strategy in advance of contract talks. But many of Hollywood’s unions have taken secrecy far too far. Unions, by law, are supposed to be transparent. That’s why the Labor Department requires all unions to provide annual reports detailing the salaries of all union employees, from clerical workers all the way up to the top executives.
The DGA has long been the most secretive of Hollywood’s unions; it’s the only union that won’t even tell its members or the press who the defeated candidates were in DGA elections; they just announce the winners. Expect that to be the case when the DGA elects news officers next year as well. SAG-AFTRA also has become much more secretive since the merger two years ago. Gone are the days when SAG was a raucous, wide-open union where dissent and dissenters flourished. The WGA West, by contrast, is much more open; it even makes the minutes of its board meetings available to its members, which none of the other talent guilds does.
Increased diversity has become a prime goal of all the talent guilds and will remain a focus in 2015. The DGA has made this a top priority, and SAG-AFTRA continues to push the industry to present a more accurate portrayal of the American scene. Women continue to be underemployed across the board, and ageism is still as strong as ever.