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Hollywood union calls for strike authorization vote by crew workers

A man speaks at a lectern
IATSE International President Matthew Loeb speaks at a 2011 event at the Directors Guild of America Theater in New York.
(Michael Loccisano / Getty Images)

Leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees are asking tens of thousands of entertainment industry workers to give them authority to call a strike.

Union leaders said in a statement Monday that they would ask their members to approve a so-called strike authorization vote.

For the record:

3:18 p.m. Sept. 23, 2021An earlier version of this post incorrectly said producers are proposing increasing the number of hours to qualify for health benefits. The proposal relates to pension benefits.

The extraordinary move comes after four months of increasingly acrimonious talks between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers failed to produce an agreement on a new contract.

IATSE said producers, which include Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney, refused to respond to their latest proposals after the union’s contract expired earlier this month.

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“This failure to continue negotiating can only be interpreted one way,” the IATSE negotiating committee said in a statement Monday. “They simply will not address the core issues we have repeatedly advocated for from the beginning. As a result, we will now proceed with a nationwide strike authorization vote to demonstrate our commitment to achieving the change that is long overdue in this industry.”

The contract affects more than 43,000 workers in the film and entertainment industry who are pushing for better rest periods, improved wages, residuals from streaming that are in line with other distribution channels, as well as increased contributions to health and pension plans. The union is also negotiating a contract that affects another 17,000 members working in feature film and television production outside of the Los Angeles and New York regions.

These 60,000 members could be asked to cast their votes as soon as Oct 1, with results tabulated on Oct 4, said a person with knowledge of the process who was not authorized to comment.

Studios have balked at the union’s demands, citing the costs they have incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are looking for concessions from the union, such as eliminating the financial penalties they must pay if crews miss meal breaks and increasing the number of hours to qualify for pension benefits.

In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it had “listened and addressed” many of the union’s demands, including increasing minimum pay rates for some types of new media productions and covering a nearly $400-million pension and health plan deficit.

“When we began negotiations with the IATSE months ago, we discussed the economic realities and the challenges facing the entertainment industry as we work to recover from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the producers group said. “In choosing to leave the bargaining table to seek a strike authorization vote, the IATSE leadership walked away from a generous comprehensive package.”

Although a favorable strike vote does not mean a walkout will follow, it potentially gives union leaders more clout in negotiations by threatening to close down productions at a crucial time.

Producers are furiously trying to revamp productions delayed by the pandemic and feed their new streaming platforms.

IATSE rarely has showdowns with producers compared with other entertainment industry unions. Hollywood crews have not staged a strike or major walkout since World War II in an event known as “Hollywood’s Bloody Friday.”

The vote, which will happen electronically, requires approval from 75% of all ballots received and a simple majority of delegates in the bargaining unit.

Locals have been preparing members by asking them to be up to date with their dues and to register emails.

Actors including Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin shared their support for the union via social media, as did showrunners including Joe Henderson of Netflix’s “Lucifer” and Tze Chun of HBO Max’s “Gremlins.”


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