They are the thousands of dull names of stars that fill in the credit titles and allow us to understand the joint effort that are a film or one Serie; men and women without whose jobs behind the lightsFrom operating cameras or in the editing room to assisting with the scripts or dressing and making up the actors and building sets, the screens would be empty. For the first time in the 128 years since they began organizing unions in USA is it so willing to almost completely paralyze the audiovisual industry in the country if the producers and large studios do not give them some more dignified working conditions or simply reasonable. AND Hollywood shakes.
On Monday, two weeks after the harsh negotiations that for months had been held by the IATSE union with the Alliance of Film and Television Producers (AMPTP) to renew three-year agreements that expired in July, over 57,000 movie workers overwhelmingly voted to back the strike. They are 99% of the members of that union with 150,000 affiliates in the US and Canada affected by the disputed contracts, in Los Angeles and nationally, and who registered to vote.
With that sign of unity they endowed their leaders with a negotiation tool powerful, which immediately brought the representatives of studios and platforms back to the talks, which were restarted on Tuesday.
On the table they have put claims basic: decent wages for the lowest paid workers, wage increases and profit sharing by some jobs in “new media” (referring to the services of streaming). They also ask longer periods of rest between shifts and on weekends that end “excessively unsafe and harmful working hours” and demand that the obligations of studies be reinforced to give workers time to eatr in marathon shootings, increasing fines if those breaks are not offered (penalties that are now so low that some producers even take them on and include them in their budgets).
For the moment the dialogue continues, but the threat of a strike exists. Workers are more determined than ever to claim labor rights, especially after the pandemic. They have spent months denouncing for anyone who wants to listen to the conditions in which they work, using the speaker social networks to expose them, especially in an account of Instagram where more than a thousand have exhibited horror stories.
With their public campaign they have earned supports and backs. They have had them, for example, from other members of the industry, from prominent names such as Octavia Spencer, Jane Fonda or Danny DeVito even from the leaders of directors, screenwriters and actors unions (whose agreements also need to be renegotiated soon). Their fight also resonates in official dispatches and the AMPTP have received a letter signed by 120 congressmen in Washington, another of 30 senators from New York and a more than 50 representatives in the state legislature of California supporting the claims of the workers and urging a “fair” negotiation.
In a statement after Monday’s vote Matthew Loeb, the union president, He assured that the ultimate goal is to reach an agreement but also explained that basically the vote addresses issues of “quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry.” The union leader also described it as “incomprehensible“That an employer that includes”megacorporations worth billions of dollars, claim you can’t cover for behind-the-scenes crews basic needs such as adequate sleep (hours), meal stops, and wages that allow you to live”.
The impact of the pandemic
The studies defend that they had already offered a response to some of the union requests, such as an agreement to finance a $ 400 million deficit in its pension and health coverage fund, some slight salary increases and increases in rest periods between filming shifts. For limit concessions, However, they allege that the industry faces “challenges and economic realities as it works to recover from the ieconomic impact of the pandemic”.
The view from the side of workers it is different. They assure that, precisely to make up for the time lost during the pandemic, the studies and especially the platforms, in need of content, are stepping up shootings at a brutal rate and spending huge amounts of money to get big names while cutting elsewhere vital for productions. In ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ a few days ago a makeup artist, Kristina Frisch, told how in the first job after the pandemic break she had a contract that involved six days a week all the filming and never stopping to eat. “It was as if, having to stop because of the restrictions, now we had to work longer and harder”. In the same article Colby Bachiller, script coordinator, explained: “even before the pandemic we knew that wages and hours were unbearable, unsustainable and unhealthy, but now they are simply cruel”.
As has happened in other sectors, in addition, many workers have emerged from the pandemic with a renewed attitude towards their work situations. “We are people, not machines”Sarah Graalman, a makeup artist, told ‘The New York Times’. “Just because killing us working has been normal does not mean it is the right thing to do. Thousands of us found out in the pandemic. We have to have a balance between life and work ”.
There have been other strikes in Hollywood, like the 100 days of screenwriters between 2007 and 2008. Although that strike is estimated to cost the California economy $ 2.1 billion and the loss of almost 38,000 jobs, the studios were then able to pull material that was already written. This time it would be different: without the workers who now threaten to stop it is impossible to roll.