IATSE Says ‘Yes’ to Contract and ‘No’ to Strike… But Just Barely

And now the film and television industry can breathe a sigh of relief… but just barely. By the narrowest of margins, members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE) have voted to ratify two contracts, the Basic Agreement, and the Area Standards Agreement, with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the trade group representing producers, major studios and streaming services.

And when we say the narrowest of margins, we mean it. The popular vote was 50.3% yes and 49.7% no, aggregated for both the Hollywood Basic and the Area Standards, with 72% turnout.

“From start to finish, from preparation to ratification, this has been a democratic process to win the very best contracts,” said IATSE International President Matthew Loeb. “The vigorous debate, high turnout, and close election, indicates we have an unprecedented movement-building opportunity to educate members on our collective bargaining process and drive more participation in our union long-term.”

A Deep Dive into the Narrowest of Votes

IATSE uses an electoral college style system through which locals are assigned delegates based on their size of memberships. Members vote within their local union and once a local reaches a majority vote, to either ratify or reject, all delegate votes are assigned to the majority result.

In the end, the combined vote was 359 (56%) to 282 (44%), out of 641 total delegate votes from the 36 local unions eligible. For the Basic Agreement the vote was 256 voting yes to 188 no and for the Area Standards Agreement the yes vote was 103 to 94 no votes.

The popular vote was much closer. A combined 50.3% voted yes and 49.7% voted no for both contracts. For the Basic Agreement the popular vote came in at 49.6% yes to 50.4% no. On the Area Standards Agreement the popular vote stands at 52% yes to 48% no. For the Basic Agreement eight locals voted yes and five locals voted no. Among the Area Standards local unions, 14 locals voted yes and nine voted no.

Turnout was high. Seventy-two percent of the 63,209 members eligible to vote cast ballots. Bargaining teams for all 36 local unions involved had endorsed passage and both agreements passed.

The pickets will remain in storage as IATSE ratifies new deal and ends strike threat

Benefits of the New Deal

“Our goal was to achieve fair contracts that work for IATSE members in television and film—that address quality-of-life issues and conditions on the job like rest and meal breaks,” said Loeb. “We met our objectives for this round of bargaining and built a strong foundation for future agreements.”

Both three-year contracts contain provisions that guarantee adequate rest at the end of the workday and on the weekend for those employed on film and television productions, along with meal breaks during the workday and stiff financial penalties if the break periods are violated. More specifically, the new contract provides a 54-hour weekend rest period, as well as 10 hours off between shifts for all workers on all types of productions. The deal also provides $370 million to shore up the pension and health funds, a 3% annual raise, and significant pay hikes for the lowest paid workers in the union, including script coordinators and writers assistants, who will see their minimum rates rise to $26 an hour by the third year of the agreement.

New provisions also will significantly improve wages and working conditions for IATSE members employed on streaming productions.

“I think it’s a pretty good contract,” said Bob Warner, a set painter in Local 729, to Variety. “It seems like, from when I talk to the people negotiating it, it’s the best we could do without going on strike. In any negotiation, nobody gets 100% of what they want. I’d say overall the gains are pretty solid.”

Trudging Ahead Through Trying Times

The dynamics of these contract negotiations were unprecedented, taking place during a global pandemic, via a remote-meeting platform, after an industry shutdown, and at a time when production for television and film was surging. Also, for the first time, the Basic Agreement, covering more than 40,000 members in 13 West Coast local unions, and the Area Standards Agreement, covering more than 20,000 members in 23 IATSE local unions elsewhere in the country, expired at the same time.

Negotiations for both the Basic Agreement and Area Standards Agreement began in May but broke off in September. Going into the fall, negotiators for both the union and AMPTP were far apart. The union opted to hold a strike authorization vote at the beginning of October. Ninety percent of eligible voters cast ballots and 98.6 percent of those voting authorized the IATSE international president to call a nationwide strike if he deemed it necessary. Following the strike vote, AMPTP returned to the bargaining table. Later, a strike date was set by the union, spurring the producers to meet the union’s demands for the Basic Agreement. A tentative agreement was reached October 16, two days prior to the announced strike date. The bargaining teams of all 13 West Coast local unions unanimously recommended ratification.

A combined 63,209 IATSE members were eligible to vote on the two agreements, 45,402 members cast ballots. Voting on both agreements was conducted electronically over the past weekend, administered by the election services firm Honest Ballot. 

Final Word from the Studios and AMPTP

The AMPTP, which represents the studios, issued a statement to Variety congratulating the union on the outcome.

“We congratulate IATSE President, Matt Loeb, the IATSE Bargaining Committee and Board for their leadership in achieving ratification of the new contracts,” the trade group said. “Throughout the negotiations, IATSE leadership advocated changes to improved quality of life for those they represent. These agreements meaningfully reflect the industry’s endorsement of those priorities and keep everyone working.”

In the midst of a record year of film and television production for Illinois and Chicago, avoiding this shutdown was absolutely critical. Illinois industry professionals will now be heading into the holiday season with their jobs intact and a hopeful look ahead to a busy 2022.

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