Members of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees voted to pass a strike authorization, giving the union chairman the power to halt film and TV production across the country.
The vote passed with 98.7 percent support and 90 percent turnout – a resounding result that the union hopes will strengthen its negotiating position.
Talks between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represent the studios, have stalled. The unions have been negotiating a new contract since May and are trying to resolve longstanding problems, including long hours on set, streaming of pay scales and residuals, and the stability of pension and health funds.
“Members have spoken loud and clear,” Matthew D. Loeb, the international president, said in a statement. “This vote is about the quality of life and the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry. Our people have basic human needs, such as time for meal breaks, adequate sleep and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they earn nothing less than a living wage.”
Loeb now has the authority to send 60,000 under-line workers to the picket lines. But first, the union is expected to continue talks with the AMPTP. In the statement, Loeb said he notified the AMPTP of the outcome Monday morning.
“I hope the studios will see and understand the determination of our members,” Loeb said. “The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the negotiating table and make us a reasonable offer.”
The union believes the authorization contributes to its influence in the negotiations. The timing of any further talks remains unclear.
“The AMPTP remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working,” the group said in a statement. “We greatly value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to prevent the industry from shutting down at such a critical time, especially as the industry is still recovering from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. pandemic. A deal can be reached at the negotiating table, but it requires both parties to work together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and seek new solutions to resolve the outstanding issues.”
The vote included 13 residents on the West Coast, as well as 23 residents across the country, including Georgia, Louisiana and New Mexico. All 36 residents voted for the authorization, with a lowest margin of 96 percent. In total, 52,706 members voted in favor of the authorization, of the 53,411 votes cast. The eligible membership, divided among the 36 residents, is 59,478.
The strike threat comes because Hollywood has never been so busy, especially on the TV side. Soundstages are at or near full capacity, and productions struggled to find enough workers to continue filming. That has led to exhaustion and burnout, but high demand has also encouraged union members.
“I don’t think there’s been a better time,” said John Lindley, president of the International Cinematographers Guild. “I’ve never seen the kind of unit we have now.”
Union members have been talking about fatigue from long production hours for decades. In previous negotiations, the studios have agreed to pay for hotel rooms for employees who believe they cannot drive home safely. This time, the unions are aiming for a 10-hour turnaround time between shifts for all employees, as well as a 54-hour turnaround time on weekends. They also want higher meal penalties, as a way of forcing productions to stop for lunch.
The vote comes a year after production restarted globally under new COVID safety protocols. Many members say the pandemic shutdown forced a rethink of the grueling schedules of film and TV crews.
“Many of our members were working from home during the pandemic,” said Cathy Repola, executive director of the Motion Picture Editors Guild. “They were allowed to dine with their family and friends, and not miss so many personal events because they didn’t have to commute in addition to their long work hours. Now the idea of going back to a workplace has really got that contrast in their face now…it’s turning things back into this madness where there’s no real work-life balance. “
The studios have pushed for wider use of “French hours,” in which workers can get a shorter workday in exchange for giving up meal penalties and breaks. The union rejected that idea, saying the days would not be shorter for many workers.
However, few members are eager to go on strike.
“Nobody’s afraid of a strike,” said Joe Martinez, member of IATSE Local 44. “We’re more interested in things getting fair.”
A nationwide strike would be the first in the union’s 128-year history.