Commercial production workers plan to picket

Times Staff Writer

Commercial production supervisors and others seeking to unionize will begin picketing today in Los Angeles for health and pension benefits.

More than 600 commercial production workers -- coordinators, supervisors and line producers -- have signed cards seeking to join the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 174, which represents mostly white-collar office workers, including those employed by Hollywood studios.

"We're the only people on the crew that don't have the safety of health and pension plans," said Sean Cooley, a production manager and an organizer of the pickets. "It's such an insulting lack of parity on the set."

The production companies, however, have refused to recognize the union as the representative for these workers, most of whom are freelancers. They view the affected workers as management, not labor, and therefore they don't qualify for union benefits, said Steve Caplan, executive vice president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, which represents 275 commercial production firms.

He said a recent effort to reach out to workers to discuss a healthcare plan was rebuffed. Union leaders said the move was an effort to divide the group.

Union organizers would not say how many pickets were planned or how long they would last. "We're not going to back off until we get a collective bargaining agreement," said Lupe Salazar, a representative for Local 174.

The standoff comes at a delicate time for the commercial sector, which has rebounded since a debilitating strike in 2000 by actors who were seeking higher wages. Producers, who weren't party to the contract, were caught in the middle during that six-month walkout.

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