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Union Roundup

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We get letters here at Union Roundup. One of them recently came from Glenne Campbell, an IA member up Canada way, who’d been reading this corner’s coverage of the ACTRA (Canada’s actors union) strike—now sort of, but maybe not settled, and more on that in a moment. She wrote about an offhand comment I made about healthcare. The line involved a quasi-witticism on my part that clearly went awry: I was trying to allude to the labor troubles north of the border suddenly putting a damper on living and working in a land where you didn’t, at least, have to worry about your health coverage vanishing because of a strike, or downsizing. Or, as Glenne put it: “As an IA member in Canada, who listens to WNYC public radio daily, I hear the cry for health care reform in your political arena. You alluded to our Canadian process in the editorial.”True, it is burdened, as is every health system in the world… but it is fair. I thought I should clarify that even if a labour group is on strike, they still get health care. More importantly, if they are unemployed they still get health care. Most importantly, if they have illness, they still get healthcare.”She even signed the letter “respectfully,” as a capper to the gracious tone she kept throughout. Bur her point is well made: You don’t get thrown into the street there, just because you become ill, as too often happens here in the good ol’ US of—”sorry, all our school and healthcare money is being used for war right now”—A.It’s interesting to note that she doesn’t allude to her union benefits as her health safety net, but rather, the society-wide net offered by Canada’s government.Which brings up the question: What happens to everyone’s safety net here if there’s a long strike, and no one is working, and thus making their minimums?This comes on top of an economy that may already be headed toward recession, as ex-Fed head Alan Greenspan recently remarked (being partly responsible, some claimed, for the recent large market plunge), and now that the feel-good giddiness and hype of award season has died down, Hollywood has to shake off the celebratory hangover and look in the mirror. Is this a town that’s going to will a self-implosion in a game of high-stakes chicken, or is it not?The answers, by the way, are not to be found in Canada. Allison Jones, writing in the Canadian Press wire service, quotes Paul Bronfman, chairman/CEO The Comweb Group, as saying “the strike certainly was almost the final nail in the coffin,” for Canada’s film industry. Toronto alone may have lost upwards of $400 million dollars in potential production revenue, according to her article.But the strike might not actually be over after all. In the same press release announcing the tentative finale, ACTRA delineated the terms of the settlement—a 10-percent wage increase, 1 percent into retirement contributions, and a new agreement for new media.But if that last seems unspecified to you, join the club because here’s the kicker, quoting from the ACTRA release: “A ‘reopener’ provision will allow the parties to revisit these terms after the Screen Actors’ Guild has negotiated its next agreement. ACTRA will use this clause to seek further improved internet terms should SAG achieve them.”In other words, they are tabling this part until they see what the Americans come up with, making the whole thing a kind of a showbiz Vietnam—a great big proxy war for other, larger interests.This was driven home in a non-bylined follow-up article, also on the Canadian Press wire: “Canadian actors and producers were wringing their hands Monday as influential US studios said ‘no deal’ to their tentative agreement. American studios, which carry heavy influence over any agreement between the two sides, are balking at language in the agreement that gives Canadian actors residual rights for performances on the internet. Hollywood moguls fear the Canadian deal would set a precedent for impending negotiations with US unions, said Richard Hardacre, president of ACTRA.”According to accounts, studio corporate lawyers were even present in the negotiating rooms up north of the border. Just as it’s bad to allow third-world workers to unionize in sweatshops, so too, on a loftier scale, it’s bad to let workers—in this case, Canadian actors—get too good a deal on internet residuals because, well, people elsewhere might start noticing.Of course, another glimpse of the future was offered when a consortium of postproduction houses in British Columbia, along with BC’s film commission, co-hosted a cocktail reception at a Sunset Boulevard hotel, to tout their new tax package for getting FX work. It’s called DAVE—not a reference to 2001, but instead the Digital Animation or Visual Effects tax credit. The breaks aren’t contingent on principal photography having been done in Canada.It’s going to be an interesting year—watch your stocks, keep an eye out for tornadoes, and write in: [email protected]

Written by Mark London Williams

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