Saturday, November 27, 2021

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    Back From The Brink: How Crippling IATSE Strike Was Averted (For Now)

    This is ironic because the focal point of the fritters was IATSEThe U.S. contract demands that a fraterday be taken to thwart a potentially disastrous Hollywood strike. virtual interactions between the union representing approximately 60,000 members covered by local people, and AMPTP, the trade association representing major Hollywood studios, held a marathon bargaining session last Friday that spread well into the night.

    It wasn’t a true Fraternity Day—a work jargon referring to the horrific practice of production shifts on set on Fridays that extended until early Saturday—but by late Friday night, negotiations were over, with both sides leading the way. The points were reached at an agreement, including an annual wage increase of 3% each year.

    According to sources, Saturday morning was largely spent interacting with the locals on their specific points. One of the largest was the minimum wage for the local 871 members (they include author assistants and various coordinators), from $16 an hour to $23.50 the following year, $24.50 in 2023 and $26 in 2024. Other sources argued that the tentative agreement was not reached until mid-Saturday. Finally, a contract was approved by all 13 West Coast locals and announced at noon on September 10, more than a month after the previous IATSE deal expired.

    One participant said of the conversation, while avoiding a work halt, “I think we were pretty close to strike.”

    Contrary to popular belief, the talks did not go over the wire as the companies underestimated IATSE’s willingness to comply with its threat to strike as the union had never done so in the past. Instead, it was the unusual way of talking that led to the drama, sources said.

    “In every union negotiation, the other side doesn’t ask on the first day what they ask on the last day,” said one observer. The two parties traditionally trade things until they reach an agreement – this is called bargaining for a reason. But this time it was not so, say insiders, adding that IATSE stood firm and did not bow down an inch to its initial demands.

    While some did during the most recent negotiations before WGA began negotiating, IATSE took the strategy to another level, surprising the studio with any ground and reluctance to give up the bargain.

    Observers believe that was at least partly due to the hardship brought by the pandemic of the last 18 months, with IATSE members as the hardest hit are many hourly workers who are less financially secure. Used to struggle when production stopped for months. The pandemic has caused many people to re-evaluate their work-life balance, making grueling long shifts with little time no longer acceptable. That change in perspective helped turn ample rest time into a core cause around which members rallied.

    It wasn’t until a week or 10 days before the last contract expired that the companies realized that the unions were not starting to change their positions and make concessions.

    “Then we had to look at ourselves and have an honest conversation,” said a studio executive. “Some practices have been carried forward for a very long time. Sometimes 14-hour days became very common, 14-odd days.”

    With minor exceptions, the new basic agreement now guarantees 54 hours of rest for those working five consecutive days a week and 32 hours of rest for six days working.

    In the final stages of quietly bringing the two sides closer together were super lawyer Ken Ziffren, Disney General Entertainment Content President Peter Rice and former DGA Executive National Director Jay Roth.

    The trio played mediators during the crucial final days of the talks, spending time in a virtual room with one side, then with the other to help bridge the gap and remove momentum barriers to the talks.

    While initial excitement among union members turned into skepticism – and even dismay at the news of a tentative deal on Saturday – it took hours and hours to follow up on rare details about the agreement beyond key terms. In days, sources on the companies side are optimistic the agreement will be ratified by union members.

    IATSE is an amalgamation of various local people whose all the presidents supported the deal. Locals who have addressed their members have already recommended ratification. But questions remain about the benefits or lack thereof in the new contract as the full agreement has not yet been issued to the members. It will come down to a vote to determine whether the strike threat has been nullified. NS Steps in the ratification process As announced by IATSE on Thursday, the voting dates are still TBD and the process is likely to extend till mid-November.

    If ratified, the new contract would increase the cost of production, impacting the entertainment companies’ profit margins. Due to the bargaining pattern, there will be a ripple effect, with the gains received by IATSE being included in the upcoming negotiations of the main guilds. While this is thought to be inevitable as those that help content make up its fair share of revenue, companies are at least hoping that there will be more bargains and fewer lines in the sand in the coming negotiations that lead straight to the brink.

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