Earlier this week, the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, voted to authorize a strike if their demands regarding pay and break times were not met. The IATSE, as the organization is known, is a union for production staff, including camera operators, prop makers, make-up artists and other “behind the scenes” staff on the set of a television show or film. The union is in contract negotiations with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers); however, this negotiation has been ongoing since early summer, with no satisfaction to the IATSE members.
The focal argument from union members is one of scheduling and pay. Complaints of workdays which lasted for more than twelve hours with few breaks if any, including a lunch break, as well as pay rates lower than eighteen dollars per hour lead to the vote to authorize a strike. Union members hold that their workdays are long and strenuous, often in “miserable working conditions.” Production employees state they simply want adequate pay for their work, and they want time off to recoup between filming. Some members state even a weekend off would be welcomed during grueling filming schedules.Read More »
According to Matthew Loeb, president of the IATSE international union, a strike is the last resort union members will take if the AMPTP will not come back to the table and revisit the union’s demands. Loeb said after the vote this week, “The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.” Loeb further elaborated that the production employees linked to IATSE are often the lowest paid individuals on the set of a film. However, they spend the most time on set, and they rarely have a lunch break or a weekend off when filming.
The strike could affect not only the West Coast, Hollywood in particular, but also places across the United States that have come to depend on the film industry for a great part of their local economy. Georgia is one state in particular that may see not only a loss of film productions in the state, but local businesses could suffer as well. The hospitality industry has seen much profit due to filming in the Peach state; when film crews and celebrities are in town, hotels and restaurants see an uptick in revenue.
Georgia has been a prime place to film television series and movies for decades; however, the last fifteen or so years have seen a great increase in the number of series and movies filmed there. Several Marvel films (Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame were at least partially filmed in Georgia) as well as The Hunger Games and Remember the Titans were all filmed in the state. However, Georgia has been the home of the set of The Walking Dead since the pilot was filmed in 2010. In fact, the filming of the popular series has generated nearly $10 billion in revenue in the state of Georgia.
Georgia isn’t the only state (outside of the West Coast) that would be adversely affected by a strike of the IATSE; Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania also record thousands of film and television-related jobs as a part of their economy. To say the strike could have a detrimental impact on an already rocky economic climate is an understatement.
These production workers have even taken to social media describing their working conditions. Over and over, one primary theme unites each worker – they simply want more time to rest and recoup and have designated time to spend with their families. According to the union’s website, workers experience “excessively unsafe and harmful working hours,” as well as an inability of the filming schedule to provide the production workers with reasonable rest.
Another issue that the IATSE cites is a reflection of modern times. Those production workers who find themselves on the set of a “new media” project (i.e., one that will be broadcast solely on a streaming platform) are being paid less than they would working on a traditional film set. These union members insist that these streaming projects are often given a bigger budget than blockbuster movies meant for the big screen. The companies involved in this type of “new media” include streaming giants such as Netflix.
IATSE union workers state “management does not appear to even recognize our core issues as problems that exist in the first place.” They cite the pandemic and the increase in popularity of streaming platforms during the lockdowns as an impetus in this growing problem. However, these union members believe the streaming, new media type company is exploiting their dedication and hard work without providing any benefit to the production worker, whom the IATSE claims is the lowest paid of all production workers.
While the strike is looming, the leading members of the IATSE invite the AMPTP to come back to negotiations with the group. They simply want a fair deal for often unrecognized workers in the film industry. The spokesperson for the AMPTP has stated publicly that they look forward to further negotiations with the film workers union and hope to come to a deal that benefits all involved. The upcoming days will prove whether negotiations can provide a deal and avoid a strike that could devastate the economy of several areas throughout the United States.
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