The union representing some 5,800 drivers, casting directors, location managers and other Hollywood workers appointed its first female leader, the local said Sunday.
The union’s board voted for Lindsay Dougherty to succeed Secretary-Treasurer Steve Dayan, who will retire on April 30. She will serve out the remainder of his term, which runs through the fall.
Dougherty, 38, is no stranger to Local 399, where she led recent contract negotiations with the major producers that secured 3% wage increases and penalties to curb weekend work for crews.
The Detroit native comes from a family of Teamsters. Her father, Patrick, is a former secretary-treasurer of another Teamsters local; her husband, sister, father-in-law and stepson are all in the union.
Dougherty, who worked as a background actor during high school for films including “8 Mile” and as a transportation dispatcher on films including “Transformers” and “Star Trek,” spoke to The Times from her Simi Valley home. Below are excerpts from the interview, which has been edited for clarity and space.
In November you were elected International Western Region Vice President, and you will be the first female leader of the Hollywood chapter of the union. About 20% of all 399 members are women (10% of the drivers are female). How important is that and the drive for greater inclusion?
I feel very lucky because I’m a second-generation Teamster, and I’ve been in this industry for many years, since the first time I was around a movie set when I was 12. I’ve grown up in this industry.
When I worked in the industry as a transportation dispatcher, it was still male dominated.So I’ve known how to navigate throughout all that, throughout my career as a rank-and-file member and as a business agent.
We had close to 40% of our members vote in the international election. And for them to even vote and encourage a woman to run is pretty amazing. It’s obviously a new day, because I think many years ago our members would not want to see a woman there.
You recently negotiated a new contract on behalf of the basic crafts workers. How did it go?
It was a hard fight. We had more member engagement, which was positive. That’s why we got the best contract that we’ve gotten in many years, because we had a high voter turnout as well and high ratification percentage. And we’re just engaging the members in a different way and through technology.
All of our negotiating committee members were able to participate in negotiations. Even if they were driving in a truck, they could hear what was happening. We’re getting more engagement through Zoom.
We are at a time where the unions are not giving concessions. Historically, the corporations that we negotiate with have had some hard times. So this was a time for us to improve our agreements and obviously protect what we already have. It was an opportunity for us to make considerable gains, which we did concerning overtime. Those are things that we have historically given up. In this agreement, we do not give up one thing.
How has the pandemic and this rising activism in the entertainment industry impacted the Teamsters?
At the onset of the pandemic, all of our members were laid off essentially, and they weren’t compensated by their employers during that time and lived off of the government’s checks that were being mailed to everybody, which I think saved a lot of families throughout the pandemic. It left a lot of people scared.
As early as July of 2020, all of our members went back to work willingly and happily. They’re subjected to the COVID protocols, which is making our industry safe, but at the same time it’s also causing mental stress. You’re working all of these hours and not getting the rest that even you normally did before, I think people were tired of it.
People in our industry don’t get to do the things that a lot of families get to do, like have dinner together or even make their daughter’s birthday party.There’s a lot of our female drivers, they’re not mothers, or if they are there, they’ve been a mother for a long time and their kids are older. So there’s all of these things our members reflected on. COVID still is just making people a little bit irritated, to say the least.
You talk about being more aggressive, more militant, what will that mean in future negotiations?
We have a lot of issues with our counterparts at the studios because our contract’s not being adhered to. It’s a very tough situation for us as an administration to deal with because the employers, they’re either going to work with us or not. We have to depend on our members to help with that [contract] enforcement, and some of it is fear...because they don’t want to come forward because they might lose their job over it.
We have a lot of fights that we have to take on. This is a time when we do have the highest amount of member engagement, but we also have a lot of new members because of how busy it’s been throughout the last couple of years. And then COVID has actually created jobs for us as well. We have to make sure that we’re educating our members and getting them ready to be involved in these negotiations.
With our new international leadership, we’re going to be focusing on militancy and being stronger for our members and being more of an inclusive union for members all across the country.
Now we have a lot of younger people in our union and interested in unions. You’re seeing a rise of the labor movement in the United States. It’s important for us to focus on educating those members but also uniting them, because the fight that we have to take on with the employers is never going to end.
And we want to transform the Teamsters into a more fighting union. So I think that’s going to be our goal, not just, you know, for Teamsters Local 399, but the Teamsters in general.
Many productions are now requiring mandatory vaccinations for crew against COVID-19 for parts of the sets or for the whole production. How have your members taken that?
Everything about COVID has been extremely difficult. With vaccinations coming into the picture, everyone was encouraged to get the vaccines. I’m vaccinated. But when you’re a union and you’re asked to make this choice on behalf of your members, it’s a very difficult thing to do because we surveyed our members at the very onset of these discussions with the studios, and they were very much not in favor of us agreeing to mandating vaccinations. It wasn’t just those that were not vaccinated, it was those that had been vaccinated but didn’t want this to be pushed onto their brothers and sisters who were just not comfortable doing it.
It’s a tough discussion to even have at the dinner table because there’s families that are divided over this topic. So we’re going to just continue on as we have as a union to support our members.
If everybody has to get vaccinated and those that don’t want to get vaccinated, essentially their livelihoods are taken away from them because then they just can’t work. [Drivers] have been able to find other work . But for our animal trainer and wrangler members, a lot of them have lost their jobs.
Anousha Sakoui is a former entertainment industry writer for the Los Angeles Times who covered topics such as labor and litigation in Hollywood. She has been a journalist for over 20 years, having joined The Times in 2019 and reported for the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg News and Businessweek Magazine.