Growing rank-and-file opposition to IATSE’s tentative agreement for a new film and TV contract could spell trouble for its ratification as voting by the membership begins and ends this weekend.
Opponents have been holding a series of members-only town hall meetings to express their discontent and share their concerns. “The general consensus at the town halls run by members is a ‘No’ vote, although I think it’s going to be very close,” said an activist who attended a virtual town hall Saturday. Social media is also rife with calls for a “No” vote on the proposed deal, even though the union leaders are solidly supporting ratification.
There are actually two separate contracts up for ratification: the Basic Agreement, which covers 13 Hollywood locals, and the Area Standards Agreement, which covers 23 locals outside of Los Angeles. Opposition appears to be strongest among the Hollywood locals, which raises the possibility that the Basic Agreement could be rejected and the other accepted.
If either or both of the contracts are rejected, IATSE leaders could then ask the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to return to the bargaining table to try and come up with a better deal. The AMPTP doesn’t have to return, but if it does and refuses to budge – perhaps noting that IATSE leaders have already called the agreement a “landmark” deal “that meets our members’ needs” – IATSE president Matthew Loeb could then launch a strike on the contract that was rejected. Having received overwhelming authorization from the members to call a strike last month, he wouldn’t have to ask them again.
The industry would be in uncharted waters if one of the contracts is rejected and the other accepted by the members.
If the Basic Agreement is rejected and the Area Standards Agreement is accepted, a strike would shut down productions across the country because three of the 13 Hollywood locals – the Cinematographers Guild, the Editors Guild and the Art Directors Guild – have national jurisdiction, and they would be on strike everywhere in the country.
If, on the other hand, he Basic Agreement is accepted and the Area Standards Agreement is rejected, productions could continue in Los Angeles, but most shows shooting elsewhere around the country would be struck.
In either scenario, however, work on shows for HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and BET would not be effected by a strike because they are shot under entirely different contracts that aren’t up for renegotiation until next year.
If either or both of the Basic and Area Standards agreements are rejected and bargaining resumes, the AMPTP might be pressed to make more concessions to address the industry’s brutally long workdays – a major issue in the run-up to the negotiations, which began in May. Some progress was made in this area in the proposed new contracts, but nowhere near the 12 hours on, 12 hours off, that many opponents of the deal say they want and are willing to go on strike for.
Shorter workdays was a key issue three years ago as well, when IATSE negotiated its current film and TV contract. Incremental gains were made then too, and though the contract was approved in a landslide under the union’s electoral college-style voting system, it was a real squeaker in terms of the popular vote – the closest in the union’s history.
As Deadline noted in its coverage back then, “The closeness of the vote might offer some consolation to opponents of the pact, while serving notice to management’s AMPTP that the unpopularity of the pact could foreshadow tougher sledding ahead when the parties return to the bargaining table in three years.”
Under the IA’s rules, each of the 13 West Coast studios locals covered by the Basic Agreement is allotted as many winner-take-all votes as the number of delegates they had at the union’s last convention, based on the size of their memberships. Altogether, the 13 locals cast 385 votes, with 193 needed either to ratify or reject the contract. The final vote was 312 votes in favor to 73 against, with the Editors Guild, whose leaders opposed the deal, casting all 73 “No” votes.
Based on those figures, the pact was approved by a wide margin: 81% to 19%. But the popular vote was much closer – somewhere in the neighborhood of 53% in favor to 47% against, with members of the Editors Guild voting overwhelmingly against it. This time around, however, leaders of the Editors Guild are endorsing the contract.
But IATSE leaders, having rallied their members to get a near-unanimous strike authorization vote last month, now face the prospect that members really are ready to go on strike for a better deal. An astonishing 90% of the eligible members cast ballots, and nearly 99% of them voted to grant strike authorization.
Three years ago during the ratification vote, only two locals had turnouts exceeding 40%, and the final total popular vote was razor thin. With a newly energized membership, turnout this year is expected to be much higher, and turnout will almost certainly be the deciding factor.