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Teamsters vote to authorize strike over commercials contract

Teamsters Local 399 votes by a 10-to-1 margin to reject a contract proposed by commercial producers

A contract dispute between commercial producers and Teamsters Local 399 has escalated, raising the prospect of the first Hollywood strike by the union in nearly two decades.

On Sunday, Teamsters drivers, location managers and scouts voted by a 10-to-1 margin to reject a contract proposed by the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers and to authorize their leaders to stage a walkout should they fail to reach an agreement by the end of the month.

A strike would effectively shut down commercial production in L.A., where nearly half of all commercials are filmed. However, the union's executive board would make the final call on whether to strike and only if negotiations break down. The union's current contract expires Jan. 31.

"The last, best and final offer by the AICP covering Commercial Drivers and Commercial Location Scouts/Managers was resoundingly rejected by the membership," the union said on its website. "Per the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Constitution, a no vote authorizes a strike. We have notified the AICP and are awaiting their response.”

The vote was a blow to the union's leaders, who had recommended approval of the contract on the grounds that it would help keep more jobs in California at a time when many production jobs have fled the state. Although strike authorization votes are often used as a way to gain leverage in negotiations, it's rare for members to resoundingly reject a contact recommended by their representatives.

"Obviously, we're a little surprised and disappointed in that we did come to a mutual agreement on a deal back on Dec. 9," said Matt Miller, president and chief executive of the AICP. "It was designed to be mutually beneficial and create additional employment opportunities for members in Local 399, as well as growth within the industry."

Miller said no date had been set on when negotiations would resume. But he expressed hope that a walkout would be averted.

"A strike is never good for anybody," he added. "We need to have some better understanding of what their issues and problems were with the deal we had."

The chief sticking point involves a provision to expand an agreement covering low-budget commercials. Modeled on a similar agreement approved by members of the Directors Guild of America, the proposal would extend the contract to commercials that spend up to $125,000 a day, up from the current maximum level of $75,000 a day. Payments would be tiered based on the budget level.

Commercial producers were seeking the incentive as an additional inducement to keep work in California, which, unlike many other states, does not offer tax credits to offset the cost of commercial productions. The change also would extend the union's coverage over low-budget Web commercials, most of which are produced non-union, at a time when advertising is rapidly moving online.

But Teamsters Local 399 members feared the offer would lead to substantial cuts in their pay rates. Members also were skeptical of a provision that would allow the union to audit budgets of commercial shoots, union officials said.

"I did think this was going to create more employment for our members," said Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399. "Obviously, our members didn't agree with that.... I'm committed to trying to find a solution to this problem, but if the AICP is unwilling to meet with us or have further negotiations, then we'll have no alternative but to call for a job action."

Teamsters Local 399 has 4,500 members, about 800 of whom work under the commercials contract. A strike over a commercials contract would be a first for the union, which last went on strike in 1988 in a dispute over the main film and TV contract.

Twitter: @rverrier

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