IATSE approves new contract by narrow margin


The Hollywood production community can rest easy… until 2024 anyway. Members of The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) ratified the union’s new contract with studios. Narrowly. How narrowly? Try razor thin.

“From start to finish, from preparation to ratification, this has been a democratic process to win the very best contracts,” said IATSE International President Matthew Loeb. “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.”

In the end, the combined vote was razor thin – 359 (56%) to 282 (44%), out of 641 total delegate votes from the 36 local unions eligible. For the Basic Agreement the vote was 256 voting yes to 188 no and for the Area Standards Agreement the yes vote was 103 to 94 no votes.

The popular vote was much closer. A combined 50.3% voted yes and 49.7% voted no for both contracts. For the Basic Agreement, the popular vote came in at 49.6% yes to 50.4% no. On the Area Standards Agreement the popular vote stands at 52% yes to 48% no. For the Basic Agreement eight locals voted yes and five locals voted no. Among the Area Standards local unions, 14 locals voted yes and nine voted no.

IATSE uses an electoral college-style system through which locals are assigned delegates based on their size of memberships. Members vote within their local union and once a local reaches a majority vote, to either ratify or reject, all delegate votes are assigned to the majority result.

Turnout was high. Seventy-two percent of the 63,209 members eligible to vote cast ballots. Bargaining teams for all 36 local unions involved had endorsed passage and both agreements passed.

“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,” noted Loeb. “We met our objectives for this round of bargaining and built a strong foundation for future agreements.”

“The dynamics of these negotiations were like none other, taking place during a global pandemic, through a remote-meeting platform, after an unprecedented industry shut-down (which affected the lives of virtually everyone). Nonetheless, the proposals we took to the negotiating table focused upon bread-and-butter issues—essential issues for the motion picture and television industries’ workers. We negotiated for the necessary components that you need to carry out your jobs: rest at the end of a day and on the weekend; meal breaks during the day; leave if you get sick; living wages; secure health and retirement benefits; and improved wages and working conditions on streaming productions,” said President Matthew D. Loeb in a letter to IATSE’s “Brothers, sisters and kin” on November 11.

Negotiations for both the Basic Agreement and Area Standards Agreement began in May but broke off in September. Going into the fall, negotiators for both the union and AMPTP were far apart. The producers refused to even discuss some of the union’s demands. The union responded by holding a strike authorization vote at the beginning of October.

Ninety percent of eligible voters cast ballots and 98.6 percent of those voting authorized the IATSE international president to call a nationwide strike if he deemed it necessary. Following the strike vote, AMPTP returned to the bargaining table. Later, a strike date was set by the union, spurring the producers to meet the union’s demands for the Basic Agreement.

With a walk-out looming at 12:01 a.m. Monday, October 18, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining deal that Saturday night.

The AMPTP is a trade association that represents major employers and producers of television and film including Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Apple, Netflix, and Amazon, among others.

IATSE leadership’s four core issues were:

  • Excessively unsafe and harmful working hours.
  • Unlivable wages for the lowest paid crafts.
  • Consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends.
  • Workers on certain “new media” streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.

The bargaining teams of all 13 West Coast local unions unanimously recommended ratification.

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Both three-year contracts contain provisions that guarantee adequate rest at the end of the workday and on the weekend for those employed on film and television productions along with meal breaks during the workday and stiff financial penalties if the break periods are violated.

In addition to across-the-board wage increases, the new agreements dramatically lift those at the bottom of the pay scale from poverty to a living wage. New provisions also will significantly improve wages and working conditions for IATSE members employed on streaming productions.

The international union worked closely with its locals to establish a set of objectives for negotiations. Discussions in local unions early in the year helped the bargaining teams set clear goals including new measures related to diversity and inclusion.

The dynamics of these contract negotiations were unprecedented, taking place during a global pandemic, via a remote-meeting platform, after an industry shutdown, and at a time when production for television and film was surging. Also, for the first time, the Basic Agreement, covering more than 40,000 members in 13 West Coast local unions, and the Area Standards Agreement, covering more than 20,000 members in 23 IATSE local unions elsewhere in the country, expired at the same time.

A combined 63,209 IATSE members were eligible to vote on the two agreements, 45,402 members cast ballots. Voting on both agreements was conducted electronically over the past weekend, administered by the election services firm Honest Ballot. 

Some of the highlights from the new deal include:

  • Wage minimums will increase 3% in each year of the Agreement, retroactive to August 1, 2021, contingent on ratification of the Agreement. The increases shall compound.
  • Those who retired prior to August 1, 2009 will receive 13th and 14th checks on or about November 1 in each year of the Agreement, provided there are 8 months of reserves in both the Active and Retiree Health Plan and the Pension Plan is certified to be in the Green Zone
  • Increased benefit contributions for on-call employees. Beginning July 31, 2022, on-call employees will receive an additional hour of benefits per day for the first five days of the workweek and, beginning July 30, 2023, another additional hour of benefits for the first five days of the workweek.
  • 10 hours minimum turnaround provided for all productions that have established terms and conditions, including pilots and first year of a series.
  • For the fifth and each succeeding one-half hour meal delay per day, the penalty shall increase to $25.00.

A significant number of IATSE members remain skeptical of the new three-year deal, maintaining that they don’t believe the deal addresses their core concerns and that some of their most important points were ignored. 

Complaints include its annual wage increase of 3%, which critics say is not keeping up with the recent surge in inflation rates, as well as a demand in greater safety protections for crew members after the accidental death of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

The agreement will expire in summer 2024.