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Another Hollywood strike looms as IATSE continues contract negotiations

Banner of the Union of Stagehands and Wardrobe at the Oregon State Capitol during the SEIU/AFSCME union rally on May 20, 2011. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Banner of the Union of Stagehands and Wardrobe at the Oregon State Capitol during the SEIU/AFSCME union rally on May 20, 2011. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Union leaders in Hollywood warned of another potential strike that could bring the production of television shows and movies to another halt.

The strike would involve members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the Hollywood Basic Crafts, the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters and several other unions that represent behind-the-scenes crew members and hundreds of other workers who are critical to the production of major motion pictures and hit television series.

Those members work for major studios connected to Netflix, NBC Universal, Paramount Global, Amazon, Warner Bros Discovery (WBD), the Walt Disney Company, Lionsgate and others. Around 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers across the country are covered by a union.

The unions’ current contract is set to expire on July 31. Negotiations began on Monday with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the media body that navigated its way through collective bargaining efforts with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) last year.

Dual strikes by SAG-AFTRA and WGA caused a severe backlog of film and television production last year, with broadcast and cable networks scrambling to fill their schedule with re-runs and other content to address a shortage of content. Movies slated for release in late 2023 and early 2024 were delayed as a result of the work stoppage, which was resolved last fall.

At a rally on Monday, Teamsters President Sean O’Brien said they were willing to strike if “these greedy corporations…choose not to reward our members.”

“We will put them on their back, on their knees, begging for mercy,” O’Brien said, according to Variety.

Some of the key sticking points involve health and pension benefits paid to covered union members. Matthew Loeb, the international president of IATSE, said those benefits and others were necessary to ensure union workers could have off time with their loved ones and “not have to work 80-hour weeks” just to make ends meet.

Loeb said studios stand to benefit from robust artificial intelligence platforms that will unlock additional creativity in film and television, and his union members should not be replaced by machine learning tools that are less-effective than human beings in performing certain behind-the-scenes tasks.

“If that efficiency comes, it needs to come to us and our jobs — and we will use that to do our jobs better,” Loeb said. “But we want some of the spoils of artificial intelligence.”

O’Brien was more direct in his threats against the Hollywood film and television studios, telling them to “put your helmets on and buckle your chin straps.”

“When you f— with the Teamsters, or any other union, it’s a full contact sport,” O’Brien warned.

The unions work under a “Basic Agreement” with AMPTP that covers certain wages, break periods, time off and other ancillary benefits. The agreement also dictates what the studios can or cannot do in terms of replacing union workers with non-union employees, contractors or technology.

The unions that are covered by the Basic Agreement include:

  • International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
  • Teamsters Local 399
  • Operating Plasterers & Cement Masons International Association (OPCMIA) Local 755
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 40
  • United Association Plumbers (UA) Local 78
  • Laborers International Union of North America Local (LiUNA!) 724

Other unions are covered by a pact called the “Area Standards Agreement,” which is set to expire later this year. Negotiations for the Area Standards Agreement will start next month.

Once terms covering the Basic Agreement and Area Standards Agreement are nailed down, each individual union will have an opportunity to negotiate directly with AMPTP on other terms that cover their members.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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