As chairman of the California Film Commission, Steve Dayan has championed the cause of fighting runaway production and giving companies more incentive to film in Los Angeles.
But, as head of Teamsters Local 399, Dayan finds himself in a high-profile standoff with a prominent Hollywood vendor whose owners say the union wants to drive up costs and make it more difficult to operate locally.
The L.A.-based company at the center of the dispute is Quixote Studios, which significantly expanded its fleet of luxury production vehicles earlier this year when it acquired 370 trailers from Sun Valley-based Movie Movers. The consolidation created one of the largest truck and trailer fleets in Hollywood.
Teamsters Local 399 has agreements with other local equipment vendors such as Hertz and Cinelease Inc. and is now turning its attention to Quixote's 200-person workforce.
"We're trying to bring production back to California, but we want it to be union production and that's what we're trying to do," Dayan said. "We're trying to organize the unorganized and to help those individuals maintain a middle-class livelihood. That's what we do."
But Quixote Chief Executive Mikel Elliott says the union's desire to represent mechanics, technicians, cleaners and other workers at Quixote would add more than $1 million in labor expenses, making it harder to expand locally. Quixote also has facilities in Louisiana and New York.
He said Quixote employees already are well-paid and have good benefits, including health insurance and a matching 401(k) retirement plan.
"If our employees wanted this, it wouldn't be a problem," Elliott said. "We would allow them to come in, but they are forcing this issue on us."
On Friday Teamsters called on members to boycott Quixote, saying the company had rebuffed its efforts to represent drivers and dispatchers and have "denied us access to its other employees."
The dispute comes at an awkward time for a coalition of entertainment companies and unions that banded together to support a bill that that would expand California's film tax credit program. The bill, AB 1839, aims to reduce the number of film jobs leaving the state by giving producers more financial incentives to shoot closer to Hollywood. It will be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee next week.
The Teamsters and Quixote are members of the coalition, which found itself drawn into the dispute on Friday when Elliott and co-founder Jordan Kitean wrote a letter to alliance members urging them to remain "neutral" in the matter.
"This is a labor dispute manufactured by a well-heeled union against a locally grown, locally based company at a time when our industry needs all stakeholders united to contain costs and bring business back," Elliott wrote in a letter circulated to the alliance.
Dayan said Quixote misclassified drivers — most of whom belong to the Teamsters — as independent contractors, refused to bargain in good faith and blocked the union's attempts to meet with employees.
"Indeed, if your employees are as happy and content with your wages, benefits and working conditions as you claim, why won't you let us talk to them?" Dayan asked.
Union reps this week set up information pickets at a Quixote facility in Sun Valley and handed out fliers depicting Elliott as a greedy business owner who is moving jobs to Louisiana while exploiting his workers in Los Angeles. "Don't believes this man's lies," the brochure read.
Dayan said Teamsters Local 399 had filed an unfair labor practices "charge" against Quixote with the National Labor Relations Board.
"We're going to do as much as we can to put as much pressure as we can on this company to sit down and bargain," said Dayan, whose union also represents drivers, location managers and casting directors.
In addition to renting out production trucks and luxury talent trailers, Quixote runs studio facilities in Los Angeles, including a large studio in Los Feliz that is home to the long-running TV series "Criminal Minds."
Quixote was founded in 1995, specializing in boutique film studios, production vehicles and film equipment.
Elliott, who grew up in Burbank, bristles at his depiction as a "villain," saying his dad was a grip and a longtime union member.
"I grew up in this town and this industry has been in my blood forever, and we want to see it thrive and succeed, and we've done that over the last 20 years," he said.