Tired workers threaten Hollywood’s biggest shutdown since WWII: “People are tired.”
Hollywood may well turn dark again.
Film and TV production can come to a screeching halt if workers behind the scenes strike in protest against what they say is a grueling workload created by the industry’s voracious appetite for content.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Employees has scheduled a strike authorization vote on Friday after talks with film and television producers broke down over salaries, working conditions and compensation paid to work on shows in streaming. If the 60,000 members of IATSE go on strike, it will be the first time Hollywood production teams have staged a walkout since World War II.
“People are tired. People want to be with their families. People want to sleep, ”says G. Victoria Ruskin, a New York-based assistant artistic director who changed careers because she couldn’t stand the 12-15 hour days of work as a set designer for films and television shows.
The last time there was an industry-wide production shutdown – a 100-day writers’ strike in 2007 – Southern California’s economy lost about $ 2.5 billion and thousands of cameramen, costume designers, prop makers and others represented by IATSE suffered lost wages totaling $ 254 million.
The crushing work schedules at the center of the contract dispute are a by-product of a burgeoning content economy that finally resumed full production in August after the disruption caused by the pandemic. The demand for fresh content to attract subscribers to new streaming services is fueling a production frenzy. Global spending on new programs is expected to reach $ 225 billion this year, according to researcher Ampere Analysis, up $ 60 billion from five years ago.
A union member described a “culture of Olympic oppression,” where workers boasted of their ability to endure days longer than 12 hours.
“The dangerous hours we work during are no longer sustainable,” IATSE Vice President Michael Miller said at a weekend rally in Hollywood, where masked union members gathered to paint support slogans and union symbols on cars. “It’s no longer an honor to work two consecutive 4-hour days and brag about how little sleep you’ve had.”
ATSE is asking for mandatory breaks during production to ensure its members have time to eat and get up, as well as weekends off. He’s also looking to improve pension benefits and health coverage, and calls for an end to concessions the union agreed to in 2009, as producers test new business models for so-called “new media” content to be broadcast on the Internet. The successes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney + illustrate that “the experience” works.
“They are successful and they are growing and we want our part,” Miller said at the rally last weekend, eliciting loud cheers from a crowd of union supporters.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the trade group sitting across the table, says it began negotiations with IATSE months ago, noting the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout caused. by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a position that implies he couldn’t afford to give the union everything it demanded – although producers say they agreed to longer breaks and increased wages and benefits ( with minimum rates increasing up to 19%).
“IATSE has come to the bargaining table with several priority initiatives, including reducing its pension and health plan deficit, longer rest periods and meal breaks, salary increases and Inordinate minimum rate increases for specific job categories, “the producers said in a statement. “AMPTP has listened to and responded to many requests from IATSE. “
A key sticking point is compensation for streaming shows. IATSE is seeking its share of the billions that big media companies invest to create viable services – a compensation issue that resonates with Black Widow Star Scarlett Johansson’s legal battle with Disney over her salary. The actress says Disney’s decision to simultaneously release the film in theaters and on its streaming service undermined the theatrical box office and her anticipated salary by millions.
A lighting technician with 25 years of experience said Netflix paid him $ 10 less than he made on a CBS network sitcom. “Why are we giving streamers this experimental rate? ” He asked. “Obviously, the experiment is a success.
Producers don’t seem willing to give up the New Media designation, although AMPTP has offered an 18% increase in the rates paid for content created for Netflix, Amazon and Disney +. Producers have also offered to cover the nearly $ 400 million deficit in pension and health plans. The union’s health care costs have traditionally been funded by residue, a source of revenue that has largely disappeared in the age of streaming.
“By choosing to leave the bargaining table to demand a strike authorization vote, the IATSE leadership has stepped away from a generous and comprehensive package,” the producers said in an emailed statement.