EXCLUSIVE: The countdown has officially started this morning in what could be one of the largest labor actions in Hollywood history.
Tens of thousands of IATSE members woke up early Friday or were already on their way to set when they received an email with a link to their strike authorization ballot.
Seeking to put the stalling studios and producers’ AMPTP representatives on a Def Con 2 scale notice after talks on a new contract weeks went silent from the other side weeks ago, the rank and file in 13 below-the-line locals across the West Coast and more elsewhere in the country are being asked to give their leadership the ability to put their power where their picket line is if necessary.
Once signing on to the link provided in this morning’s email, members are presented with a very straightforward question: “Do you authorize the IATSE International President to call a strike against the Producers covered by the Basic/Area Standards Agreement?” (Yes/No).
After months of bargaining with the Carol Lombardini-led AMPTP, the Matt Loeb-led IATSE characterizes the situation as a fairly clear choice, both professionally and personally.
“Our members deserve respect,” said Loeb in a separate email sent out early Friday at the same time as the ballot email. “Not just because we are the most talented, creative technicians and artisans in the world, bit because we are human beings with basic human needs,” the union boss continued. “We require breaks during the workday, sleep, food, a safe trip home and a little time with family or away from the job,” he added.
“The demands of the industry must be balanced with the health and wellness of its members,’ Loeb went on to say in language that implies some of the new perspective many in America have taken over the last 18 months of the Covid-19 crisis. “The changes we seek are modest and manageable. What we seek is simply fairness.” (Read the full letter from IATSE International President Matt Loeb below)
The desire for those self-described modest changes has attracted wide-spread support among many Hollywood stars, members of Congress and more, putting further pressure on the studios, streamers, and networks.
“The AMPTP has failed to work with us on addressing the most grievous problems in their workplaces,” the union has said. As the industry rebounds from the pandemic lockdowns and shutdowns of last year, those contentious issues include “excessively unsafe and harmful working hours; unlivable wages for the lowest paid crafts; consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends, and “workers on certain ‘New Media’ streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.”
Potentially pulling the plug on most productions in the USA and to some extent Canada if IATSE get the authorization (they will) and call a strike, voting will continue among the 60,000 strong guild until 9 PM PT on October 3. A result is expected from the union pretty soon afterwards, with the only real question likely to be how far over the 75% of voting ballots required for authorization IATSE will be.
Having said that, a strike, if it comes to that, would not affect premium cable productions at least not immediately. As Deadline reported on September 24, IATSE’s pay television agreement with HBO, Showtime, Starz and Cinemax doesn’t expire until December 31, 2022, so crews working those shows could continue working. Additionally, those working on commercials, music videos and low-budget feature films, which are also governed by contracts that remain in effect until late next year, could continue to got to work.
In virtual town halls and other communication with members over the last two weeks, IATSE were blunt in who can and cannot work, and the repercussions or lack thereof. “If you are working on commercials or for HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, BET or another company that has a contract still in effect – you must keep working,” the union said. “You will not be a scab!”
With voting set to conclude on Sunday, the expectation is that Loeb and the union’s negotiating committee, armed with strike authorization, will return to the bargaining table with management’s AMPTP for one last chance to reach an agreement to avert the union’s first-ever industrywide strike.
For those of you who love math, here is how the numbers work in terms of this weekend’s authorization balloting.
IATSE has an electoral college-style system of voting. For any of its locals to pass a strike authorization, at least 75% of those voting must vote “Yes” in support of a strike authorization. A local’s delegate votes will reflect the members’ votes. A local with 1,000 votes returned would need 750 “Yes” votes in order to support the strike authorization. If the local does not reach that threshold, all that local’s delegate votes would be counted as “No”. A simple majority of the delegate votes in the bargaining unit determines the outcome.
To be crystal, there are actually two separate strike authorization votes going on – one among the union’s 13 Hollywood production locals covered by the Basic Agreement, and the other covering 23 different locals outside Los Angeles who work under the Area Standards Agreement.
We will know in just under 60 hours how unified the union is in what could be a seismic shift in how Hollywood truly works.
In the meantime, read IATSE chief Matt Loeb’s letter of this morning to members here:
Dear Sisters, Brother and Kin,
We’ve been bargaining since May 2021 but the producers believe they have done enough and refuse to answer our latest proposal.
Although some progress has been made, the producers have not responded to our core priorities in any meaningful way. We are holding a strike authorization vote in order to show them that we are united in our convictions and further improvements in our compensation and working conditions are necessary.
Why haven’t the producers replied to our demands? Because there’s no good argument for not giving workers rest and meal breaks. There’s no good argument for asking people to work full time without providing them with enough compensation to make ends meet. They cannot claim with a straight face that New Media is still “new.”
Our members deserve respect. Not just because they are the most talented, creative technicians and artisans in the world, but because we are human beings with basic human needs. We require breaks during the workday, sleep, food, a safe trip home and a little time with family or away from the job.
The demands of the industry must be balanced with the health and wellness of its members. The changes we seek are modest and manageable. What we seek is simply fairness.
We must now show that we are unified with a vision toward a better life for our members; that the basic things we demand are well-deserved rights to which all works are entitled. Stability in the industry stems from a fair contract that respects our workers. Period.
I urge you in the strongest possible terms to vote YES on the strike authorization. Stand together. We are strong.
Matthew D. Loeb
IATSE, International President