Hollywood studios to head back the bargaining table after TV, film crew union authorize a strike

Key Points
  • Hollywood's backstage union workers voted to authorize an industrywide strike.
  • This vote comes after months of failed talks between the leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents major film and television production companies.
  • The union has been advocating for better working hours, safer workplace conditions and improved benefits.
Donna Young of IATSE Local 700 Motion Picture Editors Guild, writes a message of fair wages for all on a union members car during a rally at the Motion Picture Editors Guild IATSE Local 700 on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA.
Myung J. Chun | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Negotiations between Hollywood's studios and a union representing its film and television crews are set to restart Tuesday after backstage workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize an industry-wide strike Monday.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said 90% of eligible voters cast ballots over the weekend, with more than 98% in support of strike authorization.

"The members have spoken loud and clear," Matthew Loeb, president of IATSE, said in a statement Monday. "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."

The vote comes after months of failed negotiations between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents major film and television production companies.

Hollywood braces for possible strike among union crews

This decision allows IATSE to initiate a strike should talks with AMPTP remain stalled. This is the first time in IATSE's 128-year history that members of the union have authorized a nationwide strike.

In a statement, AMPTP said it remained 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," the group said.

IATSE represents a wide swath of industry workers, from studio mechanics to wardrobe and make-up artists. In total, it acts on behalf of 150,000 crew members in the U.S. and Canada. Around 60,000 of those are covered by the current TV and film contracts being renegotiated.

The union has been advocating for better working hours, safer workplace conditions and improved benefits.

"I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members," Loeb said. "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."

The AMPTP said reaching a deal "will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues."

Its contract with AMPTP, which went into effect in 2018, ended July 31 and was extended until Sept. 10. IATSE is calling for a new three-year agreement that would give behind-the-scenes workers higher pay, meal breaks, improved contributions to health and pension plans and a bigger cut of profits from streaming productions.

These demands come on the heels of one the most tumultuous times in the industry, as productions worked through a global pandemic to ensure studios had content to deliver to consumers.

The pandemic has also irrevocably changed the production ecosystem. For 18 months, consumers have been stuck at home watching TV shows and movies. This boost in viewership has given streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video massive gains in subscriptions and subscription fees.

It has also led these platforms to seek out more content and bolster its volume of production. This means IATSE workers have been called upon to work more hours as the number of projects increases, but compensation is not keeping up with this demand, the union said.

Of course, studios also faced tough financial decisions during the pandemic, as movie theaters were shuttered for nearly six months and, even when they did reopen, moviegoers were slow to return. Many companies opted to release films in theaters and on streaming services at the same time. While this helped boost subscription numbers, it ultimately led to a cannibalization of box-office sales.

An industrywide strike would essentially stop Hollywood production in its tracks, similar to what the writer's strike did 14 years ago. That strike, between 2007 and 2008, led many shows to shorten or postpone new seasons and led to the cancellation of others.