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‘It’s time to take a stand’: IATSE leader predicts strike authorization vote will pass

A man paints on a car window. Beside him, a sign reads, "Food & sleep not negotiable."
Union members get pro-labor slogans painted on their cars during a Sept. 26 rally at the Motion Pictures Editors Guild IATSE Local 700 headquarters in Los Angeles.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

In Matthew Loeb’s 13 years as president of one of Hollywood’s biggest unions, this weekend’s planned vote to authorize strike action is unprecedented.

Some 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, representing crafts that power Hollywood’s film and televisions productions, will be asked to vote on whether to grant Loeb the right to call a strike should talks over a new contract with producers remain logjammed. The results of the vote are expected to be announced on Monday.

IATSE called for a vote last week after more than four months of talks resulted in an impasse with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The union is fighting for higher pay, larger contributions to health and pension plans, and improved rest periods and meal breaks, as well as a bigger cut of the profits from streaming productions. The contract ended July 31 and was extended until Sept. 10.

The AMPTP has said it has offered to improve many of the terms of the existing contract and cover an expected $400-million health plan deficit. .

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Loeb has been president since July 2008 and has a mandate from members who reelected the 56-year-old in July for another four years. He has not been afraid to take aggressive action, calling a strike on individual productions such as “The Biggest Loser” in 2011. But unlike other Hollywood unions such as SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America, IATSE has avoided public confrontations with employers. Crews have not staged a walkout under its film and TV contract since World War II.

In an interview with The Times, Loeb shared his hopes for a return to negotiations and expectation of a strong yes vote in favor of possible strike action.

Below are excerpts from the interview, which has been edited for clarity and space.

This vote is unprecedented in your union’s recent history. How did you get here? What are the main sticking points?

Our goal is to reach an agreement, not have a dispute. We got to this point by repeatedly stressing our priorities and getting no movement. There was some movement, but not on our priority issues.

We really have four points that are hanging [out] there, and a few other issues that I think will be dealt with, but you’re talking about meals and breaks during the day; rest periods between shifts and on the weekends; a living wage for the lowest-paid people; and some appropriate adjustments to new media [streaming] based on its maturity.

The rest periods and the quality of life issues, including the meals and the breaks, are clearly getting a lot of momentum, but I would not diminish the importance of the other issues I mentioned — they are all priorities.

What do you expect the result of the vote to be and what would you say to members who are worried about a walkout?

I can’t tell you it’s going to be unanimous, but I expect overwhelming support and I expect the strike authorization vote to pass.

We’re in a campaign to turn people out to vote and to convince them to vote in favor of the strike authorization. I would say to them it’s about their lives and their quality of life and the quality of life for those people that work with them, and it’s time to take a stand. It’s been going on since mid-May, which is a long time to bargain, historically, for us.

We’ve had very difficult negotiations in the past, but we’ve always been able to reach an agreement, and that’s still our goal.

Why do you think it’s different this time?

The members have expressed their resolve in a way that has brought these issues to the forefront, and they’re now activated and motivated.

Do you think the impact of pandemic has activated members?

There’s an element of that. I think that people are evaluating their lives, time with their families, their health and their careers.

One of your aims in the talks is to tackle the discounts that streaming productions get in terms of how they calculate wages and residuals versus traditional distribution channels. Can you talk about that?

Our members are working on productions where [producers are] spending inordinate amounts of money and [members are] taking pay hits. They’re working on productions with extremely high production value. Episodic television looks different these days, right?

The companies have invested in a way that ignores our peoples’ investment and service for them. So they’re putting in huge budgets and we’re taking pay cuts.

So what happens next?

I hope that the AMPTP sees the resolve and comes back to the table with a meaningful proposal. We gave them a proposal and they never responded.

 IATSE President Matthew Loeb
IATSE International President Matthew Loeb speaks at the 2011 Directors Guild of America Honors.
(Michael Loccisano / Getty Images)

Given how far apart you were when you left things, how likely is a strike?

That depends largely on the employers and what they’re prepared to do to avoid it.

They’ve made it about power, not reason, so my read is that if they see that the strike authorization is passed, then maybe they will return to reason and the bargaining table. But if it’s about power, that’s a problem.

We’re getting support from a lot of people. They recognize there are issues. There are a lot of people supporting us; that might seem like a surprise. People who are in production, people who run productions and manage them, people who are able to produce within the confines of humane work rules. I suspect there’re reasonable people in [the AMPTP] and so there’s hope.

You have led many bargaining rounds as IATSE president. How do you feel about this latest one personally?

I find it frustrating. I’ve watched the industry and how it affects our people over the years. These are real issues and there’s an industry problem that needs to be addressed. And the time has come. It’s unsustainable for people to work under these conditions.

I was elected to speak on their [members’] behalf. I know that if I can make the lives of the members better, then I’ve done my job.

We’ve seen the impact of younger generations being more active in labor movement overall. What effect have your younger members had on the activism of the membership overall?

Their social media activity and their activism and their energy is certainly part of where we derive our strength, but I’m not sure I would make a distinction based on the age of the people, because the longer you’re in this industry, the more difficult it is to sustain. We’ve got people who’ve been working for many, many years under these conditions and it causes them problems.

Some crews have talked about the lack of equity between their contract compared to that of actors, who get longer turnaround and rest times, for example. Is parity with SAG-AFTRA’s contract your aim?

We’re not looking for parity, per se. We’re negotiating our own agreement. But the concepts are the same, which is a reasonable amount of rest between shifts and on weekends.

And is there an amount of time that you’re going to give producers to reach a deal before you call a strike?

[We will] approach the producers after the strike vote is returned and inform them of the results and see if they’re ready to get back to the table, and then we’ll decide about the timeline.


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