The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is beginning to roll out more details of its tentative contract with major film and television studios to its members, as it looks to build support for a ratification vote.
The union, which represents the vast majority of craft workers in Hollywood, announced the deal on Saturday night, averting a strike that would have paralyzed the film and TV industry from coast to coast. But the agreement has received a hostile reception from members, at least online, and tempers remained hot on Tuesday.
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There were signs that some members were coming around, though, after they heard from local leadership in Zoom town halls. And many union officials are confident that the deal will be ratified, once members are fully informed.
“This is the most gains we have ever made in a contract, and we didn’t give up anything,” said Salvador Perez, president of the Costume Designers Guild, who added that he was dismayed by some of the negative reaction. “They wanted the drama of a walkout. They had unrealistic expectations that were never going to be fulfilled. Bottom line is, we have a better contract than we ever had before, and we avoided a work stoppage.”
It’s unclear whether the online reactions reflect the views of the 60,000 members eligible to vote. The deal must be approved by a majority vote of delegates within the 13 IATSE locals on the West Coast. Each local’s delegates will vote based on a majority vote of the membership. Contract ratifications typically have low turnout — last time it was in the 30s — but this time it could be different. Almost 90 percent of members responded to a strike authorization vote two weeks ago, and the ratification vote will use the same online process.
So a lot depends on the details. Here they are, as best we know them on Tuesday afternoon. This is subject to being updated. The union was said to be preparing to circulate its own more detailed version, which would go beyond the bullet points it issued on Saturday evening. Update: The union has released its fact sheet about the agreement, which is available here.
The deal provides a 10-hour turnaround time between shifts for all workers on all projects. Some said workers have as little as eight or nine hours of minimum turnaround under the current agreement. But most workers already have 10, so it will not be a gain for them. The deal also provides a 54-hour weekend rest period, which is intended to curb “Fraturday” shifts — late Friday shifts that go until Saturday morning. There are three exceptions, however, for exterior nighttime location shoots, shoots where there is “limited access” to a location, and in cases of “weather or natural hazard.” In those cases, the weekend turnaround drops to 50 hours. Productions can still schedule six-day weeks (though it gets expensive), in which case the weekend rest period is 32 hours.
There is a significant hike in meal penalties, though only for the most extreme cases. Meal penalties compensate crews for working more than six hours without a lunch break. The new agreement keeps the status quo penalties for the first two hours, but then doubles the penalty after eight hours, from $12.50 per half hour to $25. It also includes a super-penalty if a worker goes past 20 meal penalties in a single week. At that point, each additional half-hour penalty would be equal to the worker’s prevailing hourly wage.
The union expects this will curb the most egregious situations, because productions will opt to provide a meal break rather than pay the steep new penalties. But some deep-pocketed productions could still schedule long days with no breaks, and budget in the increased penalty. A great many members, meanwhile, will not experience this as a change at all, since they rarely go beyond eight hours without a meal break or beyond 20 penalties in a week. They will continue to get the same penalties they’ve been getting for decades: $7.50 for the first half hour, $10 for the second and $12.50 for the third and fourth.
Wages for Low-Paid Workers
The lowest paid workers in the industry are in IATSE Local 871, and they will get a significant increase. Under the existing contract, writers room assistants make as little as $16 an hour. Assistant production office coordinators make as little as $15.66; art department coordinators, $16.82; and script coordinators, $17.64. Those wages will rise to $23.50 an hour in the first year of the contract, $24.50 in the second year and $26 in the third year.
Local 871 has been drawing attention to low wages in those classifications for years through its Reel Equity campaign, and has emphasized that most of these workers are women. The improvement is also significant for writers assistants and script coordinators, who organized with Local 871 only four years ago.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers went into talks hoping to increase the minimum hours required to qualify for a pension. That stays the same, at 400 hours per year. The trade organization had hoped to create a new tier, where new members would have to work 800 hours or more to be eligible. But as the clock wound down toward a strike deadline, the proposal was pulled. There is also no change to the health plan eligibility threshold, which remains 400 hours of work over six months. The studios also agreed to cover a $370 million funding gap in the pension and health plan over the next three years.
Streaming Residuals and Wages
The unions hoped to force streaming services to pay more residuals into the health and pension system. Under the traditional business model, every time a show was sold to some secondary market, or released on DVD, a residual would be paid into the plans. But streaming shows do not get sold to secondary markets — they just stay on the platform. Members fear that health and pension benefits will be jeopardized as streaming takes over more and more of the business. They were unable to make any headway there, in part because the sideletters for “new media” are set by the above-the-line guilds.
There is an increase in wages for streaming shows, which will bring rates on streaming productions closer to parity with traditional productions — though not ending the streaming discount entirely. This varies somewhat by guild, but in some cases streaming productions will no longer track with old “movie of the week” formulas, which are lower than the standard rates. The details of this part of the pact are still murky, so it’s possible that certain deal terms will be revealed in the coming days. Update: The fact sheet has more detail on this.
The contract provides a 3% wage increase for each of three years. The union had started — as unions do — at 5% and bargained down from there. The producers came up from 2.5% in the last two years toward the end of the negotiation. Union members have noted that annual inflation has been above 5% for much of the year.
It hasn’t gotten much attention, but there is a provision that seeks increased diversity in the union. The studios are under a lot of pressure to hire diverse crews. The union does not oppose that, but is wary of bringing on new recruits at the expense of existing members. The contract addresses that by adding diverse trainees, though the details are still a little unclear.
The Area Standards Agreement
All of the terms above refer to the Basic Agreement, which covers the 13 West Coast guilds. IATSE is still in the midst of negotiating the Area Standards Agreement, which covers another 15,000 to 20,000 workers in 23 locals around the country, including production hubs in Georgia, New Mexico, Louisiana and Pittsburgh. That agreement typically tracks closely with the Basic Agreement, and should be wrapped up within the next few days. There would then be two ratification votes, one for each contract, probably sometime in November, though no date has been set.
Jazz Tangcay contributed to this report.
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