IATSE: Voting Begins to Authorize Historic Strike

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Some 60,000 members of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees received ballots on Friday morning asking them to authorize the first nationwide strike in the union’s history.

Members will have three days to vote, with ballots due at 9 p.m. PT on Sunday night. The results are expected to be announced on Monday. The union’s 13 West Coast locals represent the vast majority of Hollywood’s below-the-line workforce, including camera operators, grips, editors, script coordinators, makeup artists, costume designers, set dressers, and sound mixers.

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IATSE called for the vote on Sept. 20, after talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke down. The union had been negotiating for several months on issues including long hours, streaming residuals, higher pay rates for low-wage workers, and the stability of the pension and health plans. Many of these issues have come up in repeatedly in previous negotiations, but the union is taking a much harder line than it has previously.

The vote is being conducted electronically by a firm called Honest Ballot. The union locals have been phone-banking among their membership to encourage a “yes” vote, as well as holding town hall meetings via Zoom. The union is hoping both for an overwhelming majority in favor and a high turnout.

Assuming it passes, the strike authorization would not lead directly to a strike. Instead, IATSE’s negotiators would seek to reopen talks, and would use the vote as evidence that the membership stands squarely behind their position. But Matthew D. Loeb, the international president of the union, would have the power to call a strike if the AMPTP is unresponsive.

A strike would bring nearly all TV and film production across the country to a halt. The strike would cover all work done under three contracts: the Basic Agreement, the Area Standards Agreement and the Videotape Agreement, all of which have now expired. There are separate agreements for shows produced by HBO, Showtime, BET and Starz for “first exhibition” on those cable networks, as well as separate contracts for commercials and low-budget films. Work under those contracts would continue.

IATSE has garnered support from the major Hollywood unions, including SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. On Thursday, Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Adam Schiff also sent a letter of support for IATSE to the AMPTP, which was signed by 118 other members of Congress and the Senate.

“We support the principles of adequate sleep, meal breaks and living wages for all workers,” the members of Congress wrote. “A strike would dramatically disrupt the industry, the economy, and the communities we represent. We are hopeful that both sides can negotiate in good faith and reach a consensus agreement, which necessitates both parties continuing to participate in ongoing negotiations.”

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