by Jeremy Naft
ATLANTA, GA – October 2021, union members from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists, and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories, and Canada (IATSE) authorized a nationwide strike by a near-unanimous vote. Several weeks later through negotiations, the strike was avoided and concessions to workers were made. However, many – if not most – union members are disappointed in the deal reached and their own union leadership. Despite this disappointment, on November 15th a thin majority of IATSE union delegates voted to ratify the newly negotiated contracts.1
Despite record-breaking profits for the film and television industry in the time of COVID, crew members working behind the camera lens have had to endure increasingly abusive working conditions. These conditions included but were not limited to, working 16-hour days without breaks, lack of living wages, lack of weekend time off, and very little notice given for call times (even for overnight shoots). Prior to the threatened strike, studios were ignoring worker demands, using the “precariousness” of revenue from television streaming services.2 However, the profitability of “new media” streaming services has been made clear as studios like Netflix have doubled their profits in 20213 (with the company recently announcing that it is in a place where it no longer needs to borrow money4), and entertainment companies like Disney and HBO releasing their own streaming services. Despite the clear profitability of streaming and continued investment into the future of streaming services, studios continue to throw their production crews under the bus in order to justify company growth.
The concessions won through IATSE’s negotiation with producers resulted in a new three-year contract. The contract includes a 3% increase in scale wages, a mandatory 10-hour turnaround on weekdays (capping the workday to 14 hours), and a 54-hour turnaround on weekends for shoots with five-day work weeks (TheWrap.com). While IATSE leadership has been asserting the concessions as historic victories, many among the rank-and-file have decried the concessions as meager at best. Many workers in the industry, namely those union members who work on shows past their first seasons, are already experiencing burnout from enforced 10-hour turnarounds and see no improvement to their working conditions in the new contract. Others have pointed to loopholes in the new contract allowing for producers to continue to take advantage of workers’ weekend time.5
The question remained: Would these concessions be enough to convince IATSE’s approximately 60,000 union members to vote for ratification? A strike, while avoided, for now, was still very much a possibility, and it would have been a historic first for the Hollywood union in an entertainment industry built around the motto, “the show must go on.” The slim margin of victory for ratification shows that the union is still divided on the success of these negotiations, with Los Angeles locals rejecting the new deal through popular vote.6
As for how this relates to the Southeastern region of the US, in 2016 Georgia overtook Los Angeles as the number one location for film and television production, a title that it continues to hold today. More movies and shows are produced in Georgia compared to any other state, including the majority of blockbusters from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the film industry contributes about $9.5 billion annually to the state’s economy. In 2021 alone, the film and television industry set a new record with $4 billion invested directly into Georgia productions.7 IATSE is composed of over 60,000 workers, a major portion of which reside in the Southeast. A complete halt to film and television production would have had an enormous impact on the region.
The IATSE union and its supporters in the film industry have also been promoting a social media campaign to raise awareness about, not just the possible strike, but production worker life in general. The Instagram account @ia_stories continue to share anecdotes from workers about the abuses they have endured while working on set, including carrying around cups to urinate in because they are denied bathroom breaks, serious injuries, and accidents because of not being given time to eat and rest, studios demanding workers to return to work after personal tragedies, and overhearing corporate representatives brag about “squeezing” directors and production crew to work more.
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And visit: IATSE.net
1 Robb, David, and Dominic Patten. “IATSE Members Ratify New Film & TV Contracts; Rebuke to Union Leaders as L.A. Deal Loses Popular Vote.” Deadline, Deadline, 15 Nov. 2021, https://deadline.com/2021/11/iatse-film-tv-contracts-ratified-1234873770/.
2 Baysinger, Tim. “Iatse Strike: Everything We Know about Potential Hollywood Shutdown as Monday Deadline Looms.” TheWrap, The Wrap News, Inc., 16 Oct. 2021, https://www.thewrap.com/iatse- strike-everything-we-know-hollywood-shutdown/.
3 Richwine, Lisa, and Lehar Mann. “Netflix Profit Doubles on U.S., Foreign Subscriber Growth.” Edited by Joyjeet Das and Cynthia Osterman, Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 21 July 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-netflix-results/netflix-profit-doubles-on-u-s-foreign- subscriber-growth-idUSKBN0FQ21520140721.
4 Lee, Edmund. “Netflix Will No Longer Borrow, Ending Its Run of Debt.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/business/netflix- earnings-debt.html.
5 Tannahill, Brandy. “Interview: Why I’m Voting No on the IATSE Hollywood Basic Tentative Agreement.” Labor Notes, Labor Notes, 10 Nov. 2021, https://www.labornotes.org/2021/11/interview-why- im- voting-no-iatse-hollywood-basic-tentative-agreement.
6 Robb, David, and Dominic Patten. “Cinematographers Guild among Five L.A. IATSE Locals That Voted against Contract Ratification.” Deadline, Deadline, 15 Nov. 2021, https://deadline.com/2021/11/iatse-contract-cinematographers-guild-voted-against-ratification- 1234874736/.
7 “Georgia Film Records Blockbuster Year.” Georgia Film Records Blockbuster Year, Georgia Department of Economic Development, 21 July 2021, https:// https://www.georgia.org/press-release/georgia- film-records-blockbuster-year.