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IATSE Contract Talks Reach ‘Critical Juncture’ as Strike Threat Looms

Negotiations between the studios and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees have reached a “critical juncture,” the union’s president told members on Wednesday.

The union’s 13 West Coast locals appear to be headed toward a strike authorization vote, as negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have dragged on with little progress.

“We are united in demanding more humane working conditions across the industry, including reasonable rest during and between workdays and on the weekend, equitable pay on streaming productions, and a livable wage floor,” Matthew D. Loeb, president of the international union, wrote to members on Wednesday.

Loeb added that the West Coast locals, which represent about 60,000 of the union’s 150,000 members, have the unanimous backing of the general executive board. He said the board is committed to “resourcing necessary efforts and actions” in order to achieve the locals’ goals.

“If the mega-corporations that make up the AMPTP remain unwilling to address our core priorities and treat workers with human dignity, it is going to take the combined solidarity of all of us to change their minds,” Loeb wrote.

IATSE is taking a more aggressive posture than it did in the last round of contract negotiations, in 2018. In that instance, the union declined to seek a strike authorization vote, despite urging from some of the rank-and-file who wanted to take a harder line.

Over the last week, the locals have begun to prepare members for the possibility of such a vote. Authorizing a strike would not mean that a strike is inevitable, or even likely. But it would signal support for the union leadership at the bargaining table, while a “no” vote would effectively rob the union of any leverage.

On Thursday morning, the unions advised members that they had submitted their latest proposal to the AMPTP on Sunday and had not yet received a counter proposal, “though lines of communication remain open.”

“Meanwhile, member mobilization is ongoing as we prepare for either a contract ratification or a strike authorization vote,” the unions stated.

A strike authorization vote would be approved based on a majority vote of delegates from the 13 locals. The delegates’ votes for each union would be determined by the membership vote. For each local, 75% of the voting members would have to vote “yes” for that local’s delegates to support the authorization.

The 13 locals have been bargaining with the AMPTP off and on since early summer.

The talks are taking place amid a production boom, thanks to a glut of projects that were delayed by the pandemic and the ongoing demand for content. Some members believe the union has leverage to address issues that have lingered for years — especially long production hours, short turnaround times and lack of meal breaks.

Just as importantly, the unions are also seeking better funding for the health and pension plans. Many argue that as the industry has shifted heavily to streaming, the below-the-line workforce has been left out of the major paydays that have gone to talent.

Still, some are wary of going on strike while work is so plentiful.

“It makes me a little nervous,” said one member of IATSE Local 600. “Strikes aren’t easy. I don’t think everybody quite understands there’s no handout. You don’t get anything during the strike.”

The last three-year basic agreement was set to expire on July 31, but was extended to Sept. 10 as negotiations continued. That deadline passed without an agreement, but talks have continued.

Updated on Sept. 16 with a new message from the unions.

Variety's Gene Maddaus contributed to this post.

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