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Lindsay Dougherty Talks AI, Wages

Lindsay Dougherty Talks AI, Wages

On Monday, the latest wave of crew members will enter contract negotiations with Hollywood studios and streamers.

Following nearly three months of as-yet-unresolved IATSE negotiations, the Hollywood Basic Crafts coalition will begin targeted bargaining affecting drivers, location managers, electrical workers and other classifications. The group — which spans nearly 8,000 workers in the Teamsters Local 399, IBEW Local 40, LiUNA! Local 724, UA Local 78 and OPCMIA Local 755 — already started negotiating jointly with IATSE over benefits plans in March, but this current round of talks will drill down on other issues like wages, working conditions, artificial intelligence and, for the Teamsters, autonomous vehicles.

Leading the charge for the coalition will be Lindsay Dougherty, chairperson of the Hollywood Basic Crafts group and the principal officer of the Hollywood Teamsters, Local 399. “We’re looking to be more aggressive in this round of bargaining than the studios are used to seeing,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter of her approach to this year’s talks, which arrive just one year after her Local publicly backed the writers’ and actors’ strikes, with many Teamster trucks refusing to cross picket lines. Top issues will include higher wages, significant benefits funding, AI guardrails, staffing minimums and enhanced working conditions.

In an interview with THR on Saturday, Dougherty discussed her plans to push back against “pattern bargaining,” or when a negotiating party attempts to use a provision in one agreement as a template for another’s, and how she doesn’t plan on calling a strike authorization vote but isn’t “going to take any shit” either.

I would imagine the stakes feel fairly high given how many of your members were out of work last year during the writers’ and actors’ strikes. Are you feeling that pressure at all as a negotiator?

I think that in any negotiation as a negotiator, you’re feeling pressure because you’re there representing your members and you want to get the best contract possible. Our members deserve the best, and they always have. But it’s not even just the dual strikes last year where they have seen financial hardship — it’s throughout time with some of our working conditions not being [addressed] or certain wages not being increased. It’s even more imperative to get these changes in our contract, whether it’s increased wages or increased overtime provisions, because we have seen the slowdown impact a lot of our members that are currently out of work.

So yeah, I would say stakes are higher, but I feel like [for] our members enough is enough. They want to make a sustainable wage and be able to live in California, especially Southern California, and continue to do the job that they’ve done for years. It’s going to be a harder fight, but we just have to be tougher than ever before and more aggressive. I am ready for the challenge. And I think our negotiating team and our negotiating committee has done a lot of work and we’ve done a lot of preparation, so we’re definitely feeling confident going in.

What have you gleaned about the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ approach to labor negotiations this year from how the IATSE and the joint benefits talks have progressed?

I think anyone could agree that last year was a disaster, and we weren’t a part of those [writers’ and actors’] negotiations, obviously, but the studios were, and they had two unions on strike. While I think that these companies have learned some very important things about bargaining in this industry now for their workers, they haven’t changed entirely. And so we’re going to have the same issues that we’ve had before. It’s going to take a long time to bargain with a multi-employer unit that has all of these different major corporations that are competitors and have different business interests. We can only do so much, but I think at the end of the day, we’re going to have to deal with the AMPTP.

What top issues have emerged for your members this year?

Being at the Local for the last 10 years [as] part of the union administration, we’ve always seen the top two priorities be the same, which is benefits and wages. Both are very important obviously, because they really are what put money in our members’ pockets for the work that they do day in and day out. But there are other priorities that we are seeing now that are most certainly something new, which is minimum staffing and ensuring that [members] have a job because this industry breeds insecurity for all motion picture workers looking for the next job. We want our members to be able to make a career out of these jobs and way of life, but the only way they can do that is if the work is there. We have seen things throughout time where we’ve made concessions where it’s reduced the amount of workforce and now we’re looking to increase [that workforce] in addition to the increased compensation, whether it’s through wages or working condition [issues] like overtime provisions. And obviously artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, that conversation is definitely going to be happening starting Monday.

One of your minimum staffing asks this year is one driver per vehicle.

Los Angeles is the only place where we don’t have that. The studios agreed to that single provision across all other Teamster Locals, [which] has preserved their work, and we have lost that. And this is where it’s a respect issue at this point. We’ve seen that the studios have zero loyalty to Hollywood workers because they go to other jurisdictions [where] they’re chasing the film and television tax credit, and then they agree to those provisions [elsewhere] and leave us behind. So that’s definitely a sticking point with the one driver per piece, most certainly.

In terms of putting guardrails on the use of autonomous vehicles, I think for some people, a future where autonomous vehicles are at a point where they could seriously be on the road en masse without human assistance seems far off. Why do you want protections against that technology now?

I think anyone that believes that it is naive because autonomous vehicles are on the road right now. They’ve been testing for years. And I’m not just talking about these robotaxis that we’ve seen that have been rolled out in San Francisco and now most definitely in Los Angeles, but I’m talking about semi tractors. They exist, they’ve been testing, and there are companies out there that are looking to roll these vehicles out now without a human safety operator in them, without testing and saying these are ready to be made and to be produced and available to consumers. It’s a huge threat and not only an issue for Teamsters Local 399, but an issue for any Teamster Local that represents package car drivers [like] UPS drivers. We’re seeing jobs that will be eliminated with this technology. It’s only a matter of time. So it is definitely something that we’re going to be having hopefully meaningful discussions about. And I’ve heard studios already say that they want to explore this technology. So if somebody’s already saying that from a studio side, then we most definitely need to be concerned in having these conversations and really putting proposals on the bargaining table that will protect our members.

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How specifically is the development of AI currently affecting your members, or is that more of a future concern?

We want to be ahead of the ball. With artificial intelligence, for us to say “we’ll deal with it when it happens,” we’re too late at that point. We need to be having these discussions with these companies and the studios and not just giving them carte blanche of go ahead and do whatever you want and replace our members. That’s never going to happen. We’re not going to sit back and just wait for them to make the wrong decision for us and displace our members.

How will the gains in the writers’ and actors’ contracts from 2023 affect your negotiations, if at all?

Of course we look at what every union gets, knowing that the companies typically like to subject us to the form of pattern bargaining. And so yeah, we know exactly how much money each union has gotten and we’re always going to want the best for our members. For us with residuals, those types of things, that’s really what we’re looking at. And then other [priorities], maybe it’s minimum staffing, other working conditions, each union wants to do better than the last. And so that’s always the goal. But when you look at 5 percent of a writer’s salary [the annual first-year increase that the Writers Guild of America achieved in 2023], that is not really the same as 5 percent on an hourly wage rate for a driver or a chef. It’s just apples and oranges. But the studios will most definitely say, well, this is what the pattern is. And I think stupidly, the Teamsters included, the unions have agreed to this [pattern] for the last several decades, giving us the same percentage as some of these other positions that make a lot more money than our members. We’re just leaving a lot more money on the table for our members at the end of the day.

Are you still open to calling a strike authorization vote at this time if negotiations aren’t productive?

Look, I’ve never said I was going to call for a strike authorization vote. We’re going to make a deal with the studios and then our committee’s either going to recommend the agreement or not recommend the agreement. We’re not going to stop at the midpoint of bargaining and do a strike authorization vote. That’s not ever been anything we’ve talked about. We are going to bargain until we get a deal and then it’s up to the members to vote on that. The studios, when they give their last, best and final offer, that’s when our members vote on it. And if they say yes to that deal, it is ratified. And if they say no, that’s a strike authorization.

As difficult as these negotiations may be or may not be, but I imagine they will be, we’re again going to maintain an open line of communication and a good relationship with all the studios. That’s always been our goal. We’ve done a lot of work even in the last five months leading up to negotiations to do our best to talk about these issues that not only our members have in Hollywood, but the rest of the Teamsters across the country, as well as the Basic Crafts. It only benefits us to have this open relationship where we can get the best deal by working together. But we’re not going to take any shit, either, at the end of the day.

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