Hollywood averts massive strike by film and TV workers

The strike was called by film/ TV crew members in the US demanding better working conditions

Mumbai: The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union which represents film and television crew members throughout North America, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), have reached an agreement on a new three-year contract averting a major strike less than a day before the walk-out deadline.

“This is a Hollywood ending,” IATSE International President Matthew Loeb said in a statement. “Our members stood firm. They’re tough and united. We went toe to toe with some of the richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies in the world and we have reached an agreement with the AMPTP that meets our members’ needs.”

This strike would have been the first in the union’s 128-year history and the first major crew strike since World War II. The 11th-hour deal avoids a potentially crippling shutdown which would have impacted film and TV productions nationwide, with worldwide ripple effects, just as studios struggle to recover from heavy losses caused by production shutdowns and theatre closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The agreement, which still must be ratified by the union’s membership, includes improved wages and working conditions for streaming productions, a retroactive wage increase of three per cent annually, increased funding for health and pension plans, a minimum 10-hour turnaround time between shoots with a 54-hour break after a five-day week and also includes still unspecified diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

The deal was met with a sigh of relief across Hollywood after talks stalled over the summer leading the IATSE to vote in early October on a strike authorisation with the overwhelming support of 98 per cent of union voters. The 60,000-member union represents a wide range of production crew members including cinematographers, camera operators, set designers, carpenters, hair and make-up artists, and many others.

The strong support of the union membership gave leaders considerable leverage to press their demands. The IATSE has traditionally preferred to quietly negotiate earlier agreements avoiding confrontations with the studios. However, members’ frustrations have grown to a breaking point with working 14+ hour workdays with few breaks and no weekends off.

In addition, as studio executives realised how devastating this strike could be, just as they were beginning to crawl out from beneath the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the IATSE felt further emboldened to take a tougher stand.

The union’s focused goals were: livable wages for the lowest-paid workers; more turnaround time between workdays; genuine meal breaks; rescue of the union’s ailing pension and health plan; and a bigger cut of the revenue from streaming shows. Studio executives acknowledged that they could no longer defend previous deal points allowing for such incessant work hours, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The strike has been officially called off with this tentative agreement as union members will be heading to the ballot box in the next few days to give or refuse their stamp of approval, with both sides remaining hopeful.

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