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IATSE Members Size Up Pros and Cons of Tentative Deal With Studios

IATSE Members Size Up Pros and Cons of Tentative Deal With Studios

The last time West Coast IATSE crew members — including cinematographers, editors, costume designers and gaffers, among many other craftspeople — voted on a Basic Agreement contract deal, they narrowly rejected it in the popular vote. Amid an outcry over working conditions in 2021, 50.4 percent of voting members of IATSE’s West Coast Locals voted down their union’s tentative agreement. Still, the pact passed in a delegate vote, averting a strike. Tens of thousands of crew members have been working under its provisions ever since, with some unhappy with 2021’s ratification process, believing it undermined the will of the members.

Three years later, the industry’s eyes are again on IATSE members as they study this year’s Basic Agreement tentative deal, reached June 25. The fine print of the contract hasn’t yet been released — that is set to arrive some time in the next few days — but members have received a summary and have begun attending meetings to review the key points ahead of a ratification vote between July 14 and 17. (It was unclear as of press time whether IATSE will again this year use the union’s delegate system, similar to the Electoral College, whereby Locals have a certain number of delegate votes corresponding with their size that they contribute to an overall tally.)

Members who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in recent days held varying views of the deal based on what they’ve learned so far but emphasized the role that 2023’s double strike and a production slowdown in the Los Angeles area that followed have played for their cohort. “Everyone I’m talking to is basically like ‘I’m signing this thing because we’re all getting crushed, I don’t really have a choice financially,’” says one artist in the Art Directors Guild (IATSE Local 800) who declined to give their name. “I’ll definitely be voting ‘yes.’ I want this thing over with.”

One important pillar of IATSE’s latest agreement is unusually high wage increases, cumulatively amounting to 14.5 percent by the end of the three-year contract, compared with 9 percent in 2021 and in 2018. (SAG-AFTRA set this atypical wage pattern with its strike-ending contract in 2023.) These scale increases are a significant driver of positivity towards the deal for some union members who spoke to THR. “I calculated it and that 14.5 percent over the next three years is going to be a $10, $11 increase for me on my hourly. That’s huge,” says IATSE Local 80 dolly grip Diego Mariscal, who is also the creator and administrator of the Crew Stories social media pages on Facebook and Instagram. He believes the deal is a “step in the right direction.” The agreement, which introduces three new streaming residuals, additionally funds the union’s health and pension plans for three more years.

To disincentivize long working hours, the agreement establishes triple time after a work day surpassing 15 hours and double time after 12 hours (previously, crew members received double time after 12 hours in certain situations, while in other situations they received this pay rate after 14 hours).

The safety language was a key concern for several union members who spoke with THR. Local 80 grip Nina Moskol was a friend of Rico Priem, the crew member who died in May after suffering a heart attack on the highway following his second consecutive 14-hour shift on the Fox show 9-1-1. Though his cause of death was sudden cardiac dysfunction, his death sparked renewed dialogue about the safety risks of long shifts. “While I would love to see a 12-hour turnaround instituted across the entire industry, I’m happy to see that there’s going to be a very hefty penalty should we work over a 15-hour day elapsed,” Moskol said. “I think that’s a starting place to really try to put the onus back on the leadership to control the length of our days better.”

Greg Loebell is an IATSE Local 728 lighting technician who is a member of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Entertainment Workers (CREW), a grassroots group that advocates for “a more democratic and uncompromising” IATSE. He’s disappointed with the safety provisions and wants to see more aggressive measures like triple time after 12 hours in a work day, rather than 15, and after 2 a.m., as well as mandatory hotel rooms after a certain hour in the morning and a mandatory shuttle to those rooms. (The new agreement requires employers to pay upfront for a courtesy hotel room or ride, rather than have an employee pay and later get reimbursed. Crew members working in the studio or secondary zone and who have worked a single 14-hour day are eligible to take part.) “I know that so many IATSE members right now are financially hurting and I totally respect their decision to vote however they want” in the ratification vote, he says. “But I also think there’s a lot that this contract needs to improve on and I don’t want to see more deaths in IATSE, so that’s why I’m voting ‘no.’”

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Another key point of the deal is its approach to the use of AI in film and television. A recent survey of entertainment business leaders found that sound editors, 3D modelers, sound designers, compositors, graphic designers, re-recording mixers, broadcast technicians, and audio and video technicians are believed to be among those that are most at risk of job displacement by AI. The IATSE deal adds language in contracts that “addresses the requirement of the Employer to negotiate with the Union over any impact the use of AI Systems may have upon employees,” prohibits companies from requiring union members to provide AI prompts in ways that will displace their peers, promises the creation of a committee to create AI training programs for crew members and allows meetings between the studios and the union to discuss the technology, among other provisions.

For editor and CREW member Thomas Moore, one significant disappointment in the deal is the way it handles AI. Moore is approaching retirement, but he fears that AI could eventually do a first cut of projects and could reduce the number of editors’ work days. “I’ll be voting no,” he says. Still, he adds, “My guess is it’ll pass once again. There wasn’t that much pushback in the [Motion Picture Editors Guild] town hall, and I think people want to get back to work. And I think the wage increase is probably sufficient for people to vote ‘yes.’”

Moskol was also recently at a town hall meeting with a few hundred peers, for Local 80, where the reception to the deal was “very positive,” she says. She believes the deal being ratified, and companies being assured of a few years of IATSE labor peace, could eventually lead to more work in the L.A. area. “I think they’re solid wins [in the contract] and I know that everybody would really just like to get back to work,” she says. “This is part of the stepping stone to get back to work.”

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