Tired of working in the shadows of Hollywood’s glitz and glam, some of the film industry’s most important behind-the-scenes crews are upping the ante. Just last week, over 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) cast strike authorization votes after four months of bargaining. This is the first time the union has taken steps towards a nationwide strike. If they walk, it will be Hollywood’s biggest labour disruption since the Second World War.
By piling pressure onto their bosses — powerful producers that have made movie and TV livelihoods unsafe and untenable — the union hopes to fast-forward a bitter round of negotiations and push the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television producers to bargain a fair contract. In an Interview with the Los Angeles Times, IATSE President Mathew Loeb says, “our goal is to reach an agreement, not have a dispute.”
Nevertheless, the members have spoken, and their message is nearly unanimous. Of the overwhelming 89% of members who cast ballots last week, 98% said they supported their President in calling a strike. Yesterday (Oct. 14), the union announced that members, who are scattered across the country, will walk off their respective sets on Oct. 18 if the employer doesn’t move on its subpar offers.
AUPE commends these bold artistic workers on their resolve and supports them in whatever course of action they decide to take.
Who are they and what’s at stake?
Wardrobe attendants, technicians, hair and makeup artists, stagehands, and animators — these are just some of the craftspeople the IATSE represents — who make that movie magic happen. You wouldn’t know it based on their working conditions though.. (Check out twitter for harrowing stories from the front lines).
Inhumanely long hours, work without breaks, limited rest between shifts: this is normal for these crews, but it’s not ok. These dangerous conditions are damaging workers’ quality of life, which is exactly what the IATSE is aiming to improve in bargaining. Some of the language and protections they’re fighting for include:
- Appropriate meals and breaks during the day
- Rest periods between shifts and adequate rest on the weekends
- Wage improvements for the lowest paid staff.
IATSE Members are also challenging rotten labour practices streaming giants like Netflix have snuck into the industry through the backstage door. Inequities have plagued Hollywood for a long time, but at least when networks dominated the silver screen, actors, producers and writers (people of all status) received residuals—cheques each time their work was rerun. For the lowest paid film and TV workers this cashflow was a lifesaver. But since streaming services entered the business, eliminating the residuals practice, those taps are running dry. The IATSE is pushing to change this by fighting for streaming residuals and a pay increase for their most underserved members. While the blockbusters and sagas they’re creating rake in exorbitant profits, many behind-the-scenes film & television workers are barely earning a living wage.
For all the attention mainstream media gives to celebrity and cinema, almost zero airtime is granted to the working people who keep the reels rolling and the online entertainment flowing. AUPE wants to help flip this script. We stand in solidarity with the IATSE.
While last week’s strike-authorization vote did not include Canadian film & tv workers, many American IATSE workers travel north to lend a hand on our film sets, so productions happening here on Alberta soil could very well be affected by a strike.
Plus, the pictures are fundamentally a working-class issue! Cinema has long served as a sanctuary for the working class, giving everyday people a place to escape when the real world was too rough. Why else is the movie industry often credited with helping North Americans psychologically survive the Great Depression! It only makes sense that it would honour its own staff. We also know that film and new media is going to play a critical role in our province’s post-Petro, post-pandemic economy. This transition will only be successful and launch us towards a better future if rank-and-file workers are in the director’s seat, getting the dignity and resources they need.