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The Accidental Turitz: Contract Negotiations – Okay, Now We’re Getting Into It

September 29, 2021 09:00 | By

LR-IATSEI am not a member of IATSE, but I have many friends who are. Also, I am a member of the Hollywood community, in that I work here, even if I don’t actually live here. Because of that, I have been paying attention to the ongoing contract negotiations between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, as I do any time one of the guilds gets into it with the AMPTP. Which, now that I mention it, seems like a lot lately.

Point is, as a member of the Hollywood community who is also not a member of the AMPTP, as I am not a major corporation that employees thousands of people, I tend to be on the side of the employees, rather than the employers. There are two sides to every story, sure, but generally speaking, I think it’s best for people to have a living wage, safe working conditions, not have to work themselves to death with crazy hours, and possess the ability to see their families and not deal with only seeing their partners and kids sporadically.

I know. I’m a radical.

That said, I also think there are limits. I’m not going to throw out numbers here, but if it becomes cost-prohibitive for these companies to create content, since more and more of them are parts of larger corporations that do more than make movies and television shows, they might just stop making them. Now, before you get roiled up about this, I will acknowledge that companies like Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery are so enormous that there is no way they’re going broke paying their employees, not when they’re making so much dough for their stockholders, and their CEO and executives are scoring such enormous paychecks. 

Still, as far as they’re concerned, they don’t want to give away the store and offer everything the union wants, because then there is no place for them to go, and the precedent is set for the next time. Simple negotiation tactics, really. The producers might even agree with some of the union’s demands, but are reluctant to cede to them, simply because they don’t necessarily believe they have to do so — also basic stuff.

I think the big thing here, and this is something I mentioned in a previous column, is the unknown that is streaming revenue. It’s something that comes up in every negotiation with every guild, which means each time the producers have to talk about it, they end up having another chunk taken out of their own share, which, in case you haven’t been paying attention to … well, anything at all regarding Hollywood and how people look at money, really … that’s the ballgame. We all know it’s about money, it’s always about money — see above references to wage, living; working conditions, safe; hours, crazy; and so on — but in this case, it’s really about money. Streaming is the biggest thing going and, thanks to the pandemic, it’s lately been nearly the only thing going, and that total is only going to get bigger and bigger. 

UnionsCollectedLogoSo, not only is the AMPTP not eager to share that wealth, literally, it also wants to keep costs down on the productions themselves, which means that they’d really rather not have to go overboard spending cash on things like safety protocols, proper supervision, and the like.

The upshot of this is that IATSE wants the things I mentioned above, and the AMPTP is not terribly inclined to give it to them, which is disappointing on numerous levels, not least of which is that there are now serious rumblings of strike votes in each of the disciplines that cover the various IATSE memberships. Editors, Costume and Production Designers, Cinematographers, artisans, craftspeople, each is now talking to their members about what happens next. Strike votes are a given. The question is, where do they lead?

I am wary of strike votes because they offer the possibility of undermining the argument. The Writers Guild took a strike vote four years ago during their negotiations with the producers, and when the vote came back with 96 percent in favor of walking off the job if the producers didn’t give them what they wanted, the tide turned pretty quickly and a deal was done in no time.

On the other hand, if the vote shows a membership divided, it means that the producers essentially win without having to do another thing. They can sit back in their comfy chairs, fold their arms in front of them and smile, waiting for a beaten foe to come crawling back and take whatever crumbs are offered.

Then there’s the strike itself. Let’s say the IATSE membership turns up the way the writers did, and shows a firmly united front. On the one level, this is great, because it shows the AMPTP that the membership isn’t screwing around. On the other, the time might come when a strike is called, and then … you sort of need to walk out the door. 

Ever done that before? Ever been a part of something like that? It sucks. There’s nothing fun or romantic about it. You’re either out there on the pavement with placards and getting blisters on your feet, or you’re sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring or an email to pop into your inbox to let you know that things are okay. Sometimes, that works out, and the bosses cave. Others, like in 2007-08 with the Writers Guild, it takes months and then, when it ends, nothing much is gained.

It’s tricky, is what I’m saying. 

Ultimately, I spell all this out because I tend to think long and hard about these things, and I believe it’s important to have the various options laid out for people to consider before they make a decision. I’m not one who makes lists of pros and cons, but neither do I run off pell-mell or willy-nilly and just jump into the fray sans aforethought. Winging it is not really my thing, especially when it comes to important matters like career and money and everything that goes with them.

The way it looks to me, a slightly biased outsider to the events in play with no real skin in the game, is that we are living in difficult times and people need to be able to live. Working in an industry like this is great, but you have to be able to do so and support yourself and your family at the same time. Asking for that is not too much to demand. On the contrary, it’s the least you can demand. And if you have to risk walking out on your job that you love so that you can force the bosses to give it to you? Getting yourself and your colleagues to a place of safety and security, while also putting in place the building blocks for the future? Even if it means there might not be any money at all coming in for a brief amount of time?

Well, call me crazy, but I think that is always a risk worth taking. 


Neil TuritzNeil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.

You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here