Film And TV Workers Narrowly Ratify Union Contracts To End Strike Threat

Film and television workers who were threatening to strike have voted to approve new contracts between their union and the studios, ensuring the business of Hollywood will carry on without a massive work stoppage.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) said Monday that members ratified a pair of three-year agreements that together cover roughly 60,000 workers. But each of the two ratification votes was extremely close, and the larger of the two contracts only passed due to the union’s Electoral College-style ratification system.

“Our goal was to achieve fair contracts that work for IATSE members in television and film — that address quality-of-life issues and conditions on the job like rest and meal breaks,” Matthew Loeb, the union’s president, said in a statement. “We met our objectives for this round of bargaining and built a strong foundation for future agreements.”

IATSE represents “below-the-line” crew members who don’t have famous names but are essential to making films and TV shows, including editors, camera technicians, makeup artists and script coordinators. The workers made headlines in October when they authorized union leadership to declare a strike if the studios wouldn’t meet their demands at the bargaining table.

That pressure led to a tentative agreement reached Oct. 16 between IATSE and the group representing the industry, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The proposal included higher pay rates on streaming content and significant wage increases for workers on the bottom end of the scale, as well as new language meant to protect film crews from having to work outrageously long shifts.

But plenty of workers felt the deal did not go far enough in addressing their concerns. With 14-hour days common in the industry, many hoped to see stronger rules on “turnarounds” ― the amount of time workers have off between shifts ― as well bigger across-the-board raises than the 3% annual pay bumps in the contract. They also wanted to see an increase in the “residuals” they receive for work on streaming content to support their health and pension funds.

“Several workers told HuffPost in the runup to ratification that they intended to vote ‘no’ but believed the final tally would be close.”

The film and TV workers are covered by two contracts: the Hollywood “basic” agreement, which covers 40,000 workers mostly in Los Angeles, and the “area standards” agreement, which covers 20,000 workers outside Los Angeles, in satellite film hubs like Albuquerque and Atlanta.

Under the union’s ratification system, each local union covered by a contract gets a number of delegate votes based on its size. Members cast ballots in a winner-take-all vote within each local, with all of a local’s delegate votes going to either the “yes” or “no” column. If a majority of the delegate votes support ratification, then the contract passes. Think of it as the U.S. Electoral College, but with each local union as a state.

According to IATSE, the basic agreement passed on the delegate count with 256 yes to 188 no, while the area standards passed with 103 yes to 94 no.

But the “popular” vote among members was much closer on both counts. Members under the basic agreement actually voted against the contract, 49.6% yes to 50.4% no. Meanwhile, members under the area standards agreement voted in favor of it, 52% yes to 48% no.

The union said 72% of eligible members cast ballots.

Several workers told HuffPost in the runup to ratification that they intended to vote “no” but believed the final tally would be close, especially after their local unions held town hall meetings to walk members through the contract. Some wondered whether they would be able to improve on the tentative agreement with the studios if they were to vote it down.

Loeb said Friday that the process was democratic “from start to finish, from preparation to ratification.”

“The vigorous debate, high turnout, and close election indicates we have an unprecedented movement-building opportunity to educate members on our collective bargaining process and drive more participation in our union long-term,” he said.

One IATSE member who spoke on condition of anonymity said Monday that the basic agreement passing on the delegate vote while losing on the popular vote was a “terrible” outcome, since many workers would inevitably feel the majority’s voices were not heard.

“Yikes,” the worker said in a text message.

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