In a closely watched vote, national members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) have voted to ratify a new three-year agreement. The vote by the labor union representing more than 150,000 workers in the entertainment industry—including hundreds based in the Pacific Northwest—also takes a looming strike threat off the table.
According to the union, the agreements provide some gains, like a 10-hour turnaround time between shifts for all workers on all projects as well as a 54-hour weekend rest period. The second point is meant to address the grueling "Fraturday" shifts in which crew work from late Friday all the way into Saturday morning.
The agreement also includes stricter meal penalties, to cut back on workers being made to work through lunch, and an increase in wages for workers, from writers room assistants to art department coordinators.
However, there were many desired changes still left out. Perhaps most significant was the proposal that would have made streaming services pay more residuals into the employees' health and pension system. Yet the agreement does include an increase in wages for people working on streaming shows to bring them up closer to traditional productions—while still leaving a gap.
Sam Ross, a Portland-based set dresser since 2012, praised the message sent by the narrow results.
“We got a number of gains in this new contract and, at the same time, the pretty evenly split vote sends a message to our leadership that they definitely didn’t do a great job of representing a lot of people in what they brought to the table,” said Ross, who chose to keep his vote private. “I think in the next three years there are going to be a lot of good conversations, hopefully with people with open ears at the top of the leadership ladder. ”
The deal was hammered out against the backdrop of members overwhelmingly voting for a strike last month, with 98 percent of all union votes cast in support. It would have been IATSE’s first strike in its 128-history. The outcome of the vote had long remained uncertain, as workers were divided over whether the deal went far enough to improve their working conditions.
The voting was done through an electoral college system, with locals being assigned delegates based on the size of their memberships. Different IATSE members voted for different contracts depending on where they live and work. The Basic Agreement, for IATSE’s 13 Hollywood local unions, was approved with 56 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the Area Standards Agreements (ASA)—which covers the 26 IATSE unions outside Los Angeles—barely squeaked by, with 103 yes to 94 no votes.
On a chapter-level, the ASA received 14 yes votes and nine no votes. One of those local “no” votes came from IATSE 488, the chapter covering Oregon, Washington, Northern Idaho, and Montana. Two-hundred and seventy Local 488 members voted against the ASA, while 246 voted in favor.
"I think there are going to be a lot of pissed off people... I am hopeful in three years we’ll have a stronger deal than we got this time.”
The Mercury had previously spoken to members of 488 in the lead-up to the vote. They raised concerns about long hours that can lead to workers falling asleep while commuting, safety issues in the wake of the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, and concerns that big streamers were taking advantage of them.
When reached following the vote, Local 488 members said it had been a tough decision.
Bruce Lawson is a key grip with 488 who has worked in the industry since first becoming involved in 1981. He said he voted to ratify.
“I was definitely on the fence on this one,” Lawson said. “I hope that the unity that was there for the strike vote can remain after the ratification, so we can build on that and move forward to continue to change the culture on set in the right direction.”
Ross, the Portland-based set dresser, expressed optimism about the future now that union members know the power they have, including how a future strike is something members can always return to.
“Once that’s in people’s heads, it’s like ‘you know what, we’re gonna always have that in our back pocket, so let’s try to address which we really need to,’” Ross said. “Safer worker conditions, better hours, more support on set with better staffing, that sort of thing. It woke a lot of people up.”
Painter Julia Scanlon also voted to ratify, though said she shared the concerns of those who didn’t and also supported all her fellow colleagues who voted in the process.
“The agreement wasn’t what I had hoped for,” Scanlon said “I did vote yes because I had a sense that given the process that our representatives had been through, I felt like it was best to take the wins that we did get and keep moving forward. At the same time, I did hope that a lot of people would vote no to show our leadership that we’re not satisfied, because it's not enough.”
As for what impact this could have on the future, Scanlon said she thinks there will be anger that she hopes will lead to more member involvement and subsequent change in the future. The agreement will be up for negotiation again in three years.
“I think there are going to be a lot of pissed off people,” she said. “Hopefully, there is going to be a lot more involvement from my union, maybe a lot more people having conversations before and during the negotiation process. I am hopeful in three years we’ll have a stronger deal than we got this time.”
cdavid cottrill, the southern business agent for Local 488, said there is a continued focus on creating better working conditions for all members that will extend to the future.
“The main idea has been throughout that, no matter what the results are, we need to continue to work for a culture shift in the way the production works for our members,” cottrill said.
For cottrill, those next steps are to keep members engaged in future bargaining processes that are soon underway.
“On the negotiations that we have coming up next year, for our commercial and low budget agreement, that work starts now,” cottrill said. “This week, we’ll start engaging people to be on those bargaining committees so that we get better input from the different crafts.”
As for the national leadership, they hailed the vote and the results as a positive example of the “democratic process” in action.
“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 in a statement accompanying the results. “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.”