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Showdown between US studios, crews escalates as IATSE members vote to strike

Members of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union repping US below-the-line workers, have voted unanimously in favour of taking strike action.

Matthew Loeb

The move puts the ball firmly back in the court of the US studios as the two sides remain deadlocked in negotiations over new contract terms.

In total, more than 53,000 members out of a possible 59,000 cast online ballots between Friday and Sunday, with 98.7% voting in favour of taking strike action.

While the result of the vote does not mean IATSE members will strike, it is a statement of intent impacted by the negotiations.

Importantly, the authorisation of the strike vote also means that if negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) remain at a standstill, IATSE International president Matthew Loeb now has the power to officially call for a strike.

“The members have spoken loud and clear,” said Loeb in a statement released alongside the result.

“This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry. Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage.”

Discussions between IATSE and AMPTP are set to resume today.

IATSE members have been mobilising as they attempt to negotiate higher pay, larger contributions to pension and health plans, and improved rest periods and meal breaks. The specific contracts in question are the Producer-IATSE Basic Agreement, the Area Standards Agreement and the Videotape Agreement.

In addition, the union has drawn particular attention to the fact workers on certain “new media” streaming projects are paid less than those on network shows or theatrically released tentpole movies. IATSE says this is no longer acceptable, as streaming has now become the commercial driving force behind the television industry across North America.

AMPTP, which represents the US studios in labour matters, has previously countered that its member companies are still suffering from the impact of the pandemic, and that it has already “put forth a deal-closing comprehensive proposal that meaningfully addresses the IATSE’s key bargaining issues.”

In a statement issued after IATSE announced the result of its strike vote, the AMPTP said it “remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working. We deeply value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

AMPTP added: “A deal can be made at the bargaining table, but it will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues.”

If IATSE members did down tools, it would represent the first time IATSE members have gone on nationwide strike in the union’s 128-year history.

Several actors including Elisabeth Moss, Anna Paquin, Seth Rogen and Ben Stiller have publicly supported IATSE’s push for fairer working conditions. More recently, a group of 118 Senators and Members of the House sent a letter to the AMPTP urging it to negotiate “collaboratively” and in “good faith” with IATSE.

“I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members,” added Loeb in a statement.

“The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.”

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