Negotiations to prevent a strike that could bring the film and television production business to its knees are going down to the wire.
Matthew Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said early Wednesday that unless an agreement is reached, 60,000 union members will begin a nationwide strike against the major studios on Oct. 18 at 12:01 a.m. Such a work stoppage would be catastrophic, halting production across the U.S.
Union members are demanding better hours and working conditions, saying that the surge in production over the past decade has led to long hours and dangerous situations on set.
Loeb said the union will continue bargaining with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement that addresses core issues. The unions are seeking a 10-hour turnaround between shifts for all workers, as well as a 54-hour turnaround on weekends. They are also seeking increased meal penalties, as a way to force productions to stop for lunch, and an end to discounted rates for streaming services.
“The pace of bargaining doesn’t reflect any sense of urgency,” Loeb said. “Without an end date, we could keep talking forever. Our members deserve to have their basic needs addressed now.”
An AMPTP spokesman said in a statement that the studios will stay at the bargaining table in hopes of avoiding a strike.
“There are five days left to reach a deal, and the studios will continue to negotiate in good faith in an effort to reach an agreement for a new contract that will keep the industry working,” the spokesman said.
The two sides returned to the bargaining table on Oct. 5, a day after IATSE announced the results of a strike authorization vote. The vote passed overwhelmingly with 98.7% support and 90% turnout. The studios presented a new proposal, offering 10-hour turnarounds for all productions and a provision for weekend rest. The union presented a counteroffer during a long session on Saturday, according to sources.
On Tuesday night, however, the union leadership reported that the studios appeared to be digging in their heels. “In the wake of the overwhelming strike authorization vote, the employers repeatedly refuse to do what it will take to achieve a fair deal,” Cathy Repola, the national executive director of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, said in an email to members.
IATSE has received broad public support from other entertainment industry unions and members of Congress, among others.
AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler vowed to bring broader labor resources to the table should IATSE take the step of going on strike.
“We will stand with them in solidarity. We will use the full breadth and power of the labor movement to make sure that these companies are feeling the pain,” Shuler said. “And we have lots of levers that we can use in the labor movement, whether it’s the bully pulpit, whether it’s using our shareholder capital strategies lever, or just getting those bodies out in the streets to support them.”
IATSE and the major studios that make up the AMPTP have been in on-again, off-again negotiations for the past few weeks. The most recent contract expired earlier this year, which has made for anxiety in the industry after the union took the extraordinary step of calling for a strike authorization vote last month.