THE IATSE STRIKE: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOWBy Bokeh Rentals | October 27th, 2021
After months of negotiation, the IATSE and AMPTP have finally reached a deal for its Basic Agreement—just two days before the big strike date. This is a gamechanger for Hollywood studios, audiences, and tens of thousands of union members.
See, the International Alliance for Theatrical Stage Employees operate under a Basic Agreement with the Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers, which dictates labor rules and practices. The contracts are set to expire every few years, this way they can be renegotiated among the two parties. The last contract expired back in September, and after failed negotiations for the union’s 40,000 film and television crew workers, the IATSE voted ninety-eight percent in favor of authorizing a strike—and overwhelming display of consensus among below-the-line and above-the-line employees.
It would’ve been the first strike in the union’s 128 years, and were it to take place, it would’ve likely devastated operations across film, television, and streaming services. Estimates of the damage are impossible to calculate—but the idea certainly animated more Zoom negotiations as the strike date loomed.
And that’s why the historical strike was averted when the IATSE reached a deal with the AMPTP last Saturday. See, tensions are high in the industry. The on-set tragedy of Netflix’s Rust production last week, the recent Netflix walkout that yielded a CEO response—there is palpable tension between employees and studios, on multiple fronts. And not just “below the line” employees, but A-list talent too; such as Scarlet Johannsson’s recent Disney suit or Warner Brothers unilaterally sending their 2021 slate to HBO Max for day-and-date release—then quietly patching it over with a reported $200M in payouts. Were a strike to take place, the battle would’ve exploded over the already unsettled industry.
The proposed Basic Agreement is yet to be ironed out completely, but the IATSE is touting some of the terms that are set in stone, such as the increase minimum wages by 3% annually and a “living wage” for the lowest-earning employees (the specifics for pay increases will be released in the coming weeks).
Although wages are first to come to mind, another aspect of union’s complaints were about quality of life, which stretches beyond the paycheck.
This is why the new Basic Agreement includes a 54-hour weekend rest, which would eliminate a common practice in which Friday shoots stretch into Saturday mornings, referred to as “Fraturdays” by the crews that had to endure them. Similarly, the IATSE-AMPTP agreed to increase meal penalties for studios. The way it works is that production employees have a right to lunch breaks, but productions are able delay or altogether skip meal breaks at the cost of a penalty paid out to workers. Over time, however, studios began budgeting for meal penalties, and it became common practice to incur the small penalties and regularly delay or deny meal breaks to crews. Because money is no object to some studios and tech companies, IATSE members have pushed to further incentives productions to give meal breaks, thereby easing some of the studio workarounds crafted over time.
By no means is this the limit of the proposed Basic Agreement. Over the coming weeks, lawyers from both parties will be working to translate talking points into tangible contract language. This has been laid out by the IATSE as its its four-phase plan, culminating in the Basic Agreement’s ratification vote.
The IATSE will release specific details of the new contract over the next few weeks to be received by its members—and if a majority votes to ratify the Basic Agreement, then all is resolved for the next three years, until expiration.
IATSE leadership is confident in the deal it struck, with President Matthew Loeb calling it “a Hollywood ending” after “our members stood firm”. Some other members, however, think the IATSE could’ve gained more in the deal. For instance, a TV editor in the Local 700 told the LA Times: “They were patting themselves on the back without even talking to us first”. She thinks the union had more leverage from the strike: “We just held a huge hand. And we just basically folded”.
Whether the Basic Agreement is enough will be decided by IATSE’s tens of thousands of members over the next month or so. The voting date is TBD, but discourse will keep bubbling on social media, where most of this process has taken place.
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