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Union Roundup


Union Roundup
By Mark London Williams
This is being written after the Thanksgiving break, as people file back in to town, shake off the last of the tryptophan hangovers, and prepare to get back to, well … I was going to say work, but suddenly there’s a lot less of that around.
And there’ll be even less if the Strike – we can use the upper case “S” now, at least locally – goes on into the new year.
But it might not. Nikki Finke, with her usual judiciously placed above-the-line leaks, reports on her Deadline Hollywood blog that WGA sources are telling her a backroom deal has, essentially, already been hammered out, and that with the official resumption of talks between the WGA and AMPTP, on the last Monday in November, that capital “S” labor dispute may be settled by Christmas.
Which is pretty good news, coming in what was supposed to be a news blackout, so let’s hope it pans out.
One thing that seems to be different this time ’round, compared to the strike of ’88, is that everyone affected by the strike is talking to each other, and we don’t just mean over coffee; i.e., the landscape of blogs and websites – which make Deadline Hollywood’s nexus-like status possible, for example – ratchets up the timeline for how the dispute unfolds, and even how fast the blowback begins.
We posted a piece from The Huffington Post, written by SAG board member Susan Savage, on BTL’s strike blog in which she contends that while IA members “don’t get an actual residuals check like writers, actors, and directors, they do get a tremendous and direct benefit from residuals. If you pick up a copy of the general memorandum of agreement of Aug. 1, 2006, between AMPTP and IATSE, the Moving Pictures Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the U.S. and Canada, you will see inherent in their collective bargaining agreement with the AMPTP clearly outlines that the members of these unions get a piece of residuals too. Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated between the AMPTP and the following unions: IATSE, IBT Local 399, Studio Utility Employees Local 724, IBEW Local 40, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 78, Plasters & Cement Masons Local 755, residuals from the reuse and sale of TV and feature films are paid into your pension and health plans.”
That brought immediate feedback, both pro and con, including, tellingly, this comment from a crew worker named “Barbara”:
“(IATSE President) Thomas Short may not be siding with the WGA, but 99% of IATSE workers I have talked to do. Yes, even the ones who are unemployed as a result of the strike action (as I will be after this coming week). We all need to start sticking together and backing each other up. …We all think it is very strange and very telling that we were all told to back the striking supermarket workers but not to back strikers in our own industry.”
Which was countered by a comment from “J,” which read: “I really believe this strike is a cat and mouse game, and … I believe that this strike was planned for months because the writers wanted to show the AMPTP how powerful they are.”
While blog comments have to be taken with certain grains of salt, naturally, what happens in the give-and-take on BTL’s website is happening all over virtual Hollywood – so that both the honoring and “defiling” of picket lines is instantly reported, pix snapped with phone-cams, etc.
And the social pressure to end the strike, grows ever faster – which means that with talks resuming, the enmity for both sides, if those talks in fact collapse, will be enormous, and we can safely say, here at UR, unprecedented.
In part, this is fueled by panic – a sense that the economy, in macro terms, is shaky. The very morning this is being written comes the report of 6,000 people in Cleveland applying for 300 available Wal-Mart jobs, Citicorp announcing layoffs of up to 45,000, and one of the main columnists for the Financial Times, Wolfgang Munchau, declaring the dollar is on its “last lap as the only anchor currency” in the world.
Ominously, he notes: “The financial flows back into the U.S. appear to have come to a sudden stop this summer. The U.S. Treasury International Capital System data show a massive drop in net foreign purchases of U.S. long-term securities since the end of June.”
In other words, the rest of the world is ceasing to trust the U.S. buck as a very viable currency. What will that portend?
Locally, Claudia Eller ran a piece in the Los Angeles Times’ business section, the same morning talks resumed, headlined “Writers Strike Takes Toll on Production Workers.”
In it, she quotes, among other sources, Donald Lee Harris, a production designer on Grey’s Anatomy, who says, “‘I understand (writers) want a piece of the pie, but do you have to ruin the whole pie to get it? Unfortunately, we’re being sacrificed along with them but we’re not going to get anything for it.’” And then Eller adds: “If the strike goes on for months, said Harris, who lives with his wife and their two teenagers in Sherman Oaks, he would be plenty worried. ‘Then I’m eating up all my savings and will have to go to my home equity line to support my family.’”
But guess what! Those home equity prices are falling – and will keep falling in ’08. And anyway, getting the loans against that equity will only become harder in the present climate.
Eller’s article also quotes Jon Furie, who oversees the below-the-line Montana Artists Agency, who recounts working at Nordstrom’s selling shoes, during the ’88 strike.
But if you’re competing with thousands of other people for those jobs – displaced Citicorp workers, say – that won’t be much of an option, either.
Everyone knows the entire economy is hanging by a thread. Everyone is terrified an overlong strike will cut that thread – regionally speaking – in ways that can scarcely be imagined.
So the pressure is on, for this round of talks to succeed, to an even greater degree than it was on the year’s worth of posturing that lead up to the walk-out in the first place.

Written by Mark London Williams

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