Roughly 60,000 film and television workers in Los Angeles and other cities plan to walk off the job early Monday if the major studios don’t offer a satisfactory union contract before then. It would be the largest strike to hit the U.S. private sector in 14 years.
Matthew Loeb, the president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE), said his members hope it doesn’t come to that. But after five months of negotiations, he said it was necessary to set a deadline and force the studios’ hand.
“Otherwise you’re kicking the can down the road,” said Loeb, who spoke with HuffPost on Wednesday just before heading into another bargaining session. “It’s time that the employers make a decision.”
With only a few days left to avert a strike, Loeb said the two sides still haven’t resolved some key issues. At the top of the list is rest: In recent weeks, IATSE members have come forward with stories about their grueling schedules. Editors, camera technicians, script coordinators and other behind-the-scenes personnel are demanding more time to recuperate between shifts, which can run longer than 14 hours.
“I think there’s a tremendous demand for product, more now than there ever was before.”
One worker recently told HuffPost that she’s so exhausted after work that she can’t make the drive home without pulling over to the side of the road to take a nap. Loeb said he wasn’t shocked to hear such anecdotes, but found the volume of them disappointing.
Workers have said they’re tired of working “Fraturdays” ― Friday shifts that are so long they spill into Saturday morning.
“It’s about family life,” Loeb said. “It’s about rest and health and safety on the job and coming home from the job.”
Loeb said the union is trying to insert stronger contractual protections to guard against studios forcing people to work through lunch or into the wee hours of the night, leaving them with short turnaround times before they have to be back on set the next day.
He insisted these penalties shouldn’t cost the studios anything as long as they avoid triggering them.
“If they manage properly, then it costs nothing,” Loeb said. “Because all we’re negotiating for are disincentives for them to not provide weekend rests, or to not continue to work without providing a meal [break]. If they stop and provide a meal, it costs them nothing. It costs money if they evade it.”
Long days have been a common complaint on film and TV sets for years, but Loeb said the situation has gotten worse with the rise of streaming. Studios are trying to crank out more content while expecting workers to finish on tighter timelines. There’s another streaming-related sticking point: Under the current contract, workers receive less compensation on streaming projects compared to work packaged as traditional TV or film.
“I think there’s a tremendous demand for product, more now than there ever was before,” Loeb said. “And the release times are compressed, so they’re pushing people to produce more. I think they continued to push the envelope until people got to the point where they had had it. And they’re now demanding change.”
“I’m not sure they get it,” he said of the studios. “There has been some progress, some modest progress made [in negotiations]. They certainly know what the issues are and they know what the solutions are.”
Film and TV workers are threatening to strike just days after 10,000 John Deere workers hit the picket lines at more than a dozen facilities. The walkout at the major farm and construction equipment manufacturer follows other strikes this year at big-name employers including Frito-Lay, Nabisco and Kellogg’s. The possibility of more than 100,000 private-sector workers being on strike at once has given rise to the Twitter hashtag #Striketober.
The job of a Hollywood cinematographer is a lot different from that of a machine operator in a cereal plant. But there is a strong commonality between the demands of IATSE members and those who’ve struck at other workplaces recently: They expect a life away from work. Nabisco and Kellogg’s workers said they were tired of working 16-hour days that include mandatory overtime. Like film and TV workers, they want time to see their families.
“Our business is very, very unique, and our people are technical and artistic tradespeople,” Loeb said. “I don’t know if our folks are seeing the similarities [with other labor disputes], but from where I’m sitting, I do. I see that people are reevaluating their lives. I think some of that is attributable to COVID. They’re not willing to just settle.”
Loeb said that in recent days members volunteered their time to make 5,000 IATSE picket signs, “which we hope is for nothing.”
But if there isn’t a deal, those signs will hit the streets at midnight Los Angeles time on Monday morning.
“There’s a limit to what people will put up with,” Loeb said.