Over the weekend, IATSE, the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees, voted by an overwhelming 98% majority to authorize a strike, which will shut down virtually all film and television production across the US (and it could affect some Canadian productions, which often have a portion of American crew, especially among the productions run by US studios, thanks to collective agreements). This is the biggest labor strike to hit the film and television industry since the 2007 writers’ strike, and it’s over some of the same issues. Back then, the writers were seeking residual restructuring as the onset of digital rental changed the downstream revenue that affected residual payouts to writers in the months and years after a project was released.
Residuals are part of IATSE’s bargaining platform, as they seek to increase wages for the below-the-line crew on set. Other tenets of the platform are:
- A guaranteed 10-hour turnaround between shifts during the work week—allowing for crew to get proper rest so as not to become exhausted and risk personal injury—with a 54-hour weekend turnaround, which guarantees a Friday night-Monday morning weekend, or the equivalent thereof.
- Longer breaks on set, including a force-stop break for lunch.
- Restructure the “new media deal” from 2009, which helped streaming services like Netflix to become among the biggest and most powerful employers in the industry by letting them out of residuals and paying into pension and healthcare plans like traditional studios.
None of this is unreasonable, and much of it, especially the time off, are things that regular office workers enjoy without a second thought. The attitude has always been that working in the entertainment industry is special, and that you make sacrifices for those jobs, but it has reached a point where entire swaths of the industry can no longer maintain the pace. People are getting hurt—seriously hurt—due to the insane hours and the stress they bring on. What is being asked for is a safer work environment for everyone, along with a pay rise which is overdue anyway since these deals haven’t been addressed in over a decade and life is just more expensive now than it was twelve years ago.
IATSE represents the props crews, electricians and lighting crews, drivers, set builders, set decorators, costumers and wardrobe assistants, makeup artists and hairstylists, and others involved in the material, physical production of a film or show. (Unions for cinematographers, editors, and art directors are affiliated with IATSE, too.) Movies and TV shows don’t get made without IATSE union members, full stop. And all they’re asking for is a living wage and sane working conditions from the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents some of the wealthiest corporations in America.
But just because a strike has been authorized does not mean a strike is a foregone conclusion. IATSE and AMPTP are expected to meet again today (via Zoom) to resume negotiations. Such an overwhelming show of support for a strike will, hopefully, empower IATSE to steer the negotiations in their favor and come to a new agreement, thus averting a strike. No one WANTS to shut down the film industry for an indefinite period. People would rather work! But just like the factory workers at Nabisco—who ended their strike a couple weeks ago—and the all the restaurant workers passing on service jobs with poor pay and dismal working conditions, people want to work in safe, supportive environments and to earn living wages for a full day’s labor (and then some, overtime is an issue, too). That’s all this is! Value people’s time and effort, value their safety and well-being, treat your workers with dignity and respect. Just don’t be the asshole who thinks a Marvel movie is more important than fair and humane working conditions for all.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—always side with labor.