Teamsters Leader Lindsay Dougherty on AI Trucks, Wages, and the Chance of a Strike: ‘It’s Unlikely’

Teamsters Local 399 played a pivotal role in last year’s strikes, as truck drivers honored writers’ picket lines and helped shut down production. At the same time, the union’s new leader, Lindsay Dougherty, became a star, brandishing her tattoos and launching obscenities at the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

On Monday, it will Dougherty’s turn to sit across the table from the AMPTP. The Teamsters and the other Basic Crafts unions — electricians, laborers, etc. — are looking for increased wages, a strengthened health and pension plan, and protections from artificial intelligence.

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For the Teamsters, that means addressing autonomous vehicles — a source of labor tension across industries.

In an interview on Saturday, Dougherty skipped the profanity — “Only at rallies,” she said — and gave her take on the industry slowdown that has kept many of her members out of work.

The Basic Crafts talks come on the heels of three months of bargaining by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which adjourned early Thursday morning without a deal. Those talks have been extended twice, and Dougherty thinks talks with her union could also go down to the wire. All the below-the-line contracts expire on July 31.

Still, Dougherty does not think there will be strike.

“I truly believe that it’s unlikely,” she said.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How does the industry slowdown affect the negotiations? You had Hot Labor Summer last year, and I wonder if there’s as much appetite for that this year.

The industry already started seeing the contraction begin prior to the strikes last year. It has obviously sped up the contraction due to the strikes. But in terms of us bargaining — the work is the work. I think there’s some issues that the companies are still dealing with. They’re restructuring, reorganizing, and you see the constant discussion of a merger with Paramount Global or an acquisition. The companies are dealing with their own issues that are outside of bargaining with the unions.

I think people think that once we conclude negotiations, that there’s going to be this catapult amount of work, which I don’t think that to be true.

You definitely hear people say that the studios are trying to lowball IATSE, or lowball you guys, and once the contracts are done, it’ll pick up.

We’re hearing that on the ground, but I’m not hearing that from the CEOs that I’ve talked to. I’m not hearing that from the labor relations executives. There are projects that are starting in July, August, that the major studios are producing. I think it’s fear mongering, and I think it’s a narrative that may have been created by some on the employer side, but it’s mostly not what we’re hearing at the bargaining table.

And the productions that are going worldwide — this is not new either. This is something that’s been happening since the 90s, beginning with Canada’s film and television tax credit, and even more so now. Since 2020, there’s more countries than ever before that have a film and television tax credit. So of course these companies are going to take advantage of that. And then to top it off, you add that California is expensive in general, not due to the unions, but due to the economy. We have to remain competitive and ensure that we not only protect and preserve the tax credit that we have, but improve it greatly, because we do need to do that in order to maintain work.

In terms of negotiating priorities, is a key thing to get a statement from the studios that “We’re not going to use driverless trucks?”

That is a priority, most certainly, not just for Teamsters Local 399, but also all Teamster locals throughout the country. We’ve seen dramatic rollout of autonomous vehicles in the last couple of years. So most definitely, it is a concern. We will be discussing that in this round of negotiations. But I think, increased compensation for the work that our members do is most certainly a priority. And then there’s things that throughout time we as Teamsters have given away in our collective bargaining process during a time when the studios needed concessions. This is the time to gain what we have lost and try to claw back things that we gave away in years past.

What kind of things?

There’s increased overtime pay, increased forced call penalties, things of that nature. Some of the penalties that we had prior to 1988 we have not seen since those years.

The benefit plans are being negotiated jointly with IATSE, and you’re looking to get a new streaming residual to fund the plans. How close are you on that?

We’re looking for things that the other unions and guilds have already had, and some have had for quite some time. So we have to address the funding of our pension and health plan, and I think even the employers agree with that. But the question is, “How much are they willing to pay?” And so that is still being negotiated. But it is extremely important for all of the Teamsters and the Hollywood Basic Crafts as well as IATSE to ensure that we have increased funding and also so we can improve benefits for our members along the way.

What’s your sense of the likelihood of a strike?

I truly believe that it’s unlikely. Our proposals are extremely reasonable and realistic. Whether or not the companies believe that, I’m not sure. We will see. But ultimately, for the employers, what happened last year was obviously a disaster. And they simply can’t afford another strike. So I don’t think it’s likely. I think that we’re going to be able to make a deal.

I think every negotiation is difficult. I think this one is especially going to be difficult just because of the fact that you have streamers, and you have legacy media, and you have the two conflicting priorities with those two different employers. But at the end of the day, we still have time to bargain, and I think that we will be able to figure out a way.

And the way that the AMPTP has bargained historically, I think they see it as not fruitful for the industry. I don’t think they’ve changed overnight since last year, but I think they’ve certainly learned some lessons. And hopefully we continue in a more positive way in this industry. And I think we will. Even as much as I challenge the employers — and I will be in the most aggressive way — I still have a good labor relationship with the majority of those companies at the table.

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