Screen Extras Walk Out in Fight Over Wage Cuts
Protesting wage cuts of 25% to 40% by Hollywood producers, the Screen Extras Guild went on strike Wednesday for the first time in its 41-year history.
The extras said their members left the sets of at least 25 productions, including the television shows “Cheers,” “Designing Women,” “Dynasty” and “St. Elsewhere.”
“We were 98% successful in convincing our members to stay off the job,” said Peter Eastman, president of the extras union in an interview at the guild’s office.
But industry spokesmen said production of the shows was continuing. “We have received reports of some temporary disruptions of production,” said Carol Akiyama, senior vice president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. “However, replacements have been found and the productions are proceeding on schedule. We intend to continue production and will meet our production deadlines,” she added.
Studio executives said they anticipate no difficulty in securing replacements for striking extras. “There are a very large amount of extras working non-union in this town already,” said one executive who asked not to be identified.
On Wednesday afternoon, the extras and the producers started another negotiating session that lasted late into the night. Without a settlement, the strike is expected to widen today. Representatives of the extras said they will set up picket lines at some Hollywood studios and attempt to persuade Teamsters Union drivers, as well as their own members, not to cross them.
Columbia, Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Warner Bros. and Aaron Spelling Productions are the members of the alliance who have contracts with the extras and are affected by the strike.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles-based Joint Council 42 of the Teamsters sanctioned a strike by the extras. Last week, the executive board of the 1.6-million member Teamsters International accepted the 6,000-member extras union as an affiliate.
Teamsters Local 399, the local that represents studio drivers, has a no-strike clause in its contract with the producers alliance. However, the contract contains another clause that allows its members to observe picket lines that have been sanctioned by Joint Council 42 without facing discipline by their employers, said Mike Riley, president of the council. “We are supporting the efforts of the extras to avoid wage cuts,” Riley said.
Additionally, Earl Bush, secretary-treasurer of Local 399, sent a letter to local members, saying that its executive board had voted unanimously to support the extras.
“It is our sincere belief that the employers’ union-busting tactics are permeating this industry and must not be ignored. We trust that you will feel the same and give your full support” to the extras, Bush’s letter says.
Alliance President J. Nicholas Counter III has maintained that the producers are not engaged in union busting, insisting that they are simply trying to reduce the severe cost differential that exists between union and non-union film makers. Until Dec. 28, union extras were paid $91 a day, compared to the $35 a day extras are paid by non-union companies.
On Dec. 28, after negotiations reached a stalemate, the producers unilaterally cut wages and working conditions for extras--the individuals who fill out crowd scenes in movies and television shows. Wages were slashed to $54 for a six-hour day and cut to $68 for a full day of up to 11 hours of work.
Also, double-time pay on weekends was eliminated. And the alliance reduced the minimum number of guild members who must be hired as extras before non-union extras can be used.
Akiyama said there was a 31% decline in work for extras at the unionized companies from 1985 to 1986 because of reduced production in Hollywood attributable to the high cost of extras. “I know of at least three feature films which would have been done in Los Angeles had our offer been implemented last summer as proposed,” she said. “Those features were done out of state,” Akiyama said, where lower pay rates for extras are available.
Eastman, the extras president, said the producers are not entitled to the big wage cuts because most of the studios are profitable and their executives are paid large salaries.
Ellen Leddy, an extra for 25 years, said much is at stake in the dispute. “This is my career, my pension; I work regularly,” she said after she decided not to report for work Wednesday for “Designing Women,” being shot by Columbia Pictures Television in Burbank.