Hollywood editors break with parent union IATSE over new studio contract
Hollywood editors typically toil far from the limelight, huddled over digital consoles in dark rooms as they meticulously shape movies and TV shows into their final forms.
Now they find themselves the unlikely center of attention in an escalating labor dispute that threatens a new three-year contract covering compensation, benefits and working conditions for thousands of Hollywood crew members.
In a rare breaking of rank, the Motion Picture Editors Guild is recommending its members vote against ratification of a tentative deal recently negotiated by its parent union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE. The Local 700 editors guild said the contract with Hollywood studios and TV networks is flawed in several areas and doesn’t adequately address the effects of the streaming media boom on compensation and benefits.
Uncertainty over streaming residuals has had a ripple effect through the negotiations and heightened Hollywood labor tensions in recent years, according to David Smith, associate professor of economics at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, where he studies labor issues.
“It’s clouding all the elements. No one knows what the future holds, which makes it more difficult to come to an agreement on both sides,” he said.
The use of social media by guild members has also been crucial in fomenting dissent.
“In the past, we would trust leadership and take their word,” Smith said. “Social media is allowing people to dig deeper. It’s creating a grass-roots movement.”
IATSE represents an estimated 40,000 technical and crafts workers throughout Hollywood, including editors, cinematographers, set decorators and prop makers. The individual guilds rarely speak out against IATSE leadership, which has historically presented a unified front in its negotiations with studios.
But editors are now agitating in a way that is causing problems for the powerful union. Much of the fighting has played out on social media in recent days, as members of various guilds exchange sharp words on Facebook over the editors’ decision to reject the pact.
The acrimony has also reached the highest levels of the union. Catherine Repola, the editors guild’s national executive director, has openly clashed with IATSE president Matthew Loeb in an escalating war of words.
“I am doing what I think is best for the membership of Local 700 and my first priority and loyalty is to the members,” Repola said in an interview. She declined to comment on the guild’s relationship with IATSE’s leadership since the disagreement broke out.
In a letter to IATSE President Matthew Loeb obtained by The Times, attorneys representing the editors guild allege that Loeb ridiculed and even threatened Repola during a recent executive board meeting because she recommended that her members reject the proposed contract.
The attorneys allege that Loeb told union leadership and other members that the editors guild “is not your friend,” and that Repola is trying to unseat officers at sister guilds.
“None of the statements made are true,” Michael Feinberg, the attorney representing the editors guild, wrote in the letter dated Wednesday. He demanded that Loeb apologize to Repola, withdraw his statements and affirm her right to freedom of speech as a union member.
In a letter to the editors guild, IATSE General Counsel Samantha Dulaney called Feinberg’s statements “ill-informed” and “inaccurate.”
A spokeswoman for IATSE didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Full details of the provisional bargaining agreement, which was reached July 26, haven’t been released.
IATSE’s last contract with the studios was ratified in 2015 and was set to expire on July 31. Contracts signed after the deadline are typically retroactive to the last expiration date.
No schedule has been announced for the ratification of the current proposal, but ballots have been sent out and results are expected by the end of the month or early September.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the bargaining organization that represents the major studios and networks, declined to comment.
So far, 11 of the 13 affected Hollywood guilds have voiced support for the new IATSE contract. Only the editors guild and Local 871, which represents script supervisors, production coordinators and other crafts workers, have not endorsed the deal. Local 871 representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Repola acknowledged that the editors guild faces an uphill battle. IATSE has the approval of the majority of member guilds, which would almost guarantee passage. “I respect their right to have an opinion just as I believe they should respect our right,” she said.
Editors are arguing that the proposed contract doesn’t contain provisions for new streaming residual payments linked to the reuse of content in overseas markets, which they say would help fund the health and pension plans. The plans have taken a hit as revenue from secondary markets like DVDs and TV syndication have shrunk in recent years while streaming services such as Netflix have taken off.
Guild leaders noted that both the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America negotiated this residual for its members.
“We should have the same pension and healthcare security that the DGA, WGA and SAG receive,” said Louis Cioffi, a guild member and editor who has worked on numerous TV series and movies.
The guild is also arguing that small post-production facilities will face disproportionate increases in their health plan contributions under the new agreement. These companies will pay 75 cents per hour each year of the agreement, compared with the major studios and their affiliate companies, which will pay 20 cents per hour in the first year, and an additional 10 cents in each of the second and third years. They said this will put a greater financial strain on smaller companies and could result in the loss of jobs for guild members.
Another major point of contention is rest periods, known in the industry as “turnaround.” Editors claim that despite some improvements, the contract doesn’t adequately address issues including sleep time, getting home safely and personal time between shifts.
The guild said in a memo to members that the contract’s turnaround provisions feature limitations, like the exclusion of pilots and first seasons, and that the negotiations result in nine hours’ turnaround for editors and 10 for all other guilds.
“Nobody wants a strike. I am very happy with my employer,” said Dave Terman, a supervising film editor at Sony Pictures and a guild member. But he said he remains squarely against the new agreement.
“I will vote ‘no’ because there are areas of our contract that need to be addressed now.”
IATSE didn’t address the internal clash in a recent letter to its members, saying that the new contract secures several concrete gains, including annual wage increase of 3%, improved rest periods and increases in benefit contributions from all employers.
“We are in an era of dramatic transformation, and these changing dynamics are expected to continue on an industry-wide scale,” Loeb, the international president of IATSE, said in the letter.
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