On October 1, approximately 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union will be asked to cast their vote giving union leadership permission to declare a massive strike. The strike would impact 43,000 members who work in what is known as “below-the-line” positions in the film and television industry — including stager builders, hair and makeup artists, grips, costumers, and more.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced productions across the country to shut down for months, and now studios are trying to make up for that lost time. However, in an attempt to make up for lost time and money, IATSE members are claiming that they are not receiving the breaks that they are legally entitled to, and they are not being paid what they should be. IATSE says that studios are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for the lower rates.
Traditionally, contracts will state how long workers on a set can go before they are legally required to have a break. If a studio violates those rules, they are forced to pay a penalty. IATSE is claiming that studios are knowingly violating those rules and will just pay the fines while their workers may go 12+ hours without receiving any kind of break.
Another major contention is the increased use of streaming platforms for many studios. Typically, cuts from films and television series that go straight to streaming are not as high as films and series that premiere in theaters and on major networks. However, the pandemic has forced studios to release more major projects directly to their streaming platforms, and the IATSE says that moving to more streaming should mean a bigger cut for the employees that work on those projects.
Studios, which include The Walt Disney Company, have balked at the demands of IATSE, claiming that the union is making for too much, considering what studios have gone through and what they have lost because of the pandemic. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is representing the studios and is asking for penalties to be lifted when set workers are not given their breaks. They also want to set a higher minimum requirement before health benefits are given to employees.
The strike would mainly affect workers in Los Angeles, but there are local unions that will also be included in the vote that represent workers on a national scale. There may also be two votes, one for workers in New York and Los Angeles, and one for the local unions that represent workers outside of those two areas.
It is important to note that a “Yes” vote does not mean that IATSE union members will immediately go on strike. IATSE believes that a “Yes” vote will give them more bargaining power, and if things do not go in the way the union would like, they have the power to declare a strike. A strike of this size has not happened in Hollywood since writers went on strike back in 2007.
The strike vote would take place on October 1, with the results being announced on October 4. For a local union to vote yes, 75% of its members must vote to authorize the strike. So, it is possible that just the unions representing New York and Los Angeles workers vote to authorize the strike. It is possible that unions representing workers across the country vote yes, or that none of the unions do. Only time will tell.
Do you think union members should go on strike until they receive better compensation? Let us know in the comments!