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Union Roundup: It’s Shaping Up to Be a “Hot Labor Summer” Judging by DTLA Event for AFL-CIO Locals


Hot Labor Summer
Photo via Mark London Williams

[Update: Shortly after we went to press, there was a joint statement sent out by IATSE, SAG, the WGA, and other Hollywood guilds in support of the DGA as the guild prepares to head into its own negotiations. As IATSE’s Jonas Loeb wrote in an email, “One line stands out to me as quite powerful, ‘As eyes around the world again turn towards the negotiation table, we send a clear message to the AMPTP: Our solidarity is not to be underestimated. The Hollywood guilds and unions stand united, and we stand strong.'”

So perhaps those DGA t-shirts are forthcoming, after all. Click here for the full statement. And as ever, stay tuned, as there is no sign the twists and turns will slow anytime soon. The original column is below.]

Although it was billed as a labor rally and dance party — though there seemed to be a lot more of the former than the latter — the event’s title came straight out of the movies: Unions Strike Back.

“Join the Resistance” cajoled the logo’s subhead, and there was even some Jedi iconography on the poster. All of which brought bemused speculation about why that second Star Wars film — the one where the Empire prevails, at least for a while — was being riffed on by organizers, who could’ve called the event something like “Return of the Unions” to remind participants that there are times in history (to borrow from another franchise) when resistance actually isn’t futile.

Maybe Empire was referenced because it’s the best one in the whole panoply of that now Disney-owned “IP?” And perhaps, by way of reminder, that without writers, actors — and everyone else in the crafts — that film and its legacy wouldn’t exist as an evergreen studio property at all?

In any case, many answered the call this past Friday, showing up to an event both held and juxtaposed under the looming Nike sign across from the L.A. Convention Center.

Hot Labor Summer
Photo via Mark London Williams

It was neither a random date nor location, for as noted in the IATSE newsletter that went out earlier in the week, “Los Angeles thrives off of the labor of workers,” And further, “across LA County, collective bargaining agreements in every sector will be expiring.” It ain’t just showbiz, folks! Hence the invite to “Come join us as we stand in solidarity with our fellow union members” from an array of guilds — WGA members were there, SAG members in shirts supporting the WGA, the aforementioned IA, along with teachers from UTLA, public workers from AFSCME and SEIU, Hollywood and other Teamsters, and more.

And the reason they were all there is because the State Democratic Party kicked off its three-day “Re-Organizing”-themed state convention across the street. As UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz reminded the crowd from the speaker’s platform at the end of the narrowing street, “Election season is coming up — and we need those Democrats to stand up and speak for us workers.”

So the event was, in a sense, a “friendly reminder,” about who actually does the phone-banking, the organizing, and ultimately, the voting for the party, no matter how many high-end-check writing parties you might have at the home of the Sabans, or the estate of any other power-producer. Though the event was scarcely Chicago ’68, of course. Everyone both inside and outside the conversion center was still on the same basic side of the fence. At any gathering for that other major political party, after all, any kind of labor organizing would be viewed, simply, as a conspiracy against the order accumulation of preordained wealth for the benighted few.

It was also a reminder, for all those people there at the union rally, with so many parallel contract struggles, that they were not alone, no matter that so many of them came from so many different geographies — either in terms of the family migrations that led them to California, the careers they work in, or even the literal places from across Los Angeles and Orange counties where they live.

Though speaking of geographies, the location of the event itself was not particularly conducive to casually strolling over from convention to rally, as construction barriers restricted space around the entrances as the crowd grew, preventing anyone from easily entering the event on its Figueroa Street side, though somehow, the fact that rampant downtown redevelopment was a factor seemed appropriate to many of the living issues at hand. That meant that one had to walk around the sizable block to come in from the rear, which was filling up with workers and supporters from the various locals, including, on the showbiz side, the aforementioned thesps, scribes, and crew folk.

But strangely enough, nary a DGA shirt to be seen, with one writer remarking they were “not really surprised.”

Gary Phillips and Matthew Kellard
Gary Phillips and Matthew Kellard/Mark London Williams

By this time, we were chatting with L.A. literary luminary Gary Phillips, perhaps best known for his prose work pushing Chandler-style noir and crime fiction into, sometimes literally, new areas. He’s also recently been working on the FX show Snowfall, where, he said, he and Walter Mosley “got to be the old men in the room.”

Phillips had come from his usual picketing locale by Amazon in Culver City to lend support. He thought “streaming was more of an issue than AI right now,” and was soon joined by True Story writer Matt Kellard, who initially joked about prime picketing locales with Phillips, saying that Netflix must “have a VIP section for picketers” since they are increasingly viewed as perhaps the key source of antimatter whose pull will keep the strike going.

But for how long?

Kellard thought the now commonly-held wisdom that the studios will wait at least until force majeure kicks in, and they can shed many now-bloated and unwanted production deals, was something he took with “a grain of salt.” Not so much because that’s unlikely to happen, as we head into June and that contractual trigger gets closer, but rather because, he says, there will be “no pipeline left” for development after that happens.

The studios might do it, in other words, but they’ll still be left scrambling after.

This is also likely true, and may portend a busy winter — or new year — after this is all finally “settled,” in whatever ultimately provisional way it will be.

As for AI, Kellard thought that SAG would be “the first line of defense” there since actors will be the canaries in the digital coal mine trying to literally protect those images and voices that have become valuable (though some heirs to such estates, perhaps anxious to see their movie star parents or grandparents in new “product,” may ultimately have other ideas).

Magnus, Robot Fighter
Magnus, Robot Fighter image via Gold Key Comics

As for Phillips — who is also noted for his comics work — his succinct answer on the topic came in “three words” he had for us: “Magnus, Robot Fighter.”

This refers to Magnus, the robot fighter from the year 4,000, who protects humans from their multiplying robotic overloads. Magnus himself has moved through a handful of publishers since his early ’60s launch at now-defunct Gold Key comics (Phillips’ knowledge of comics lore is extensive), but the event’s loudspeaker placement often made what was being said on stage hard to hear from the back near the Flower Street side, all of which left us time to speculate on whether and how Magnus should be updated — the future no longer being what it used to be — to take on AI.

Phillips joked that it might be worth a pitch to Magnus’ current publisher. And hey, we all need to keep busy while all the economic verities around us keep shifting.

Meanwhile, things were kept lively onstage. Newly minted Teamster media star, Local 399 head Lindsay Dougherty — whose penchant for F-bombs keeps landing her media profiles — had taken to the speakers’ platform to note that the AICP — essentially the AMPTP for commercials — was dragging their feet on their contract with Teamsters, and “we’re ready to take a commercial break with them. If you want to fuck around, you’re going to find out,” she continued, though not just restricting her comments to producers of commercials.

Hot Labor Summer
Photo via Mark London Williams

SAG’s National Executive Director, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland had spoken earlier, saying to the WGA that “your fight is our fight,” and “we will be there until your strike is over.” (But where? On stages filming things with locked scripts until the actors officially go on strike, too?) In any case, he echoed the refrain that many other speakers did — “It’s going to be a hot labor summer.”

Kathy Kiernan, a retired news writer who’d helped with WGA strategizing during the previous strike of 2007-08, happened by to say howdy to Phillips and Kellard and agreed that compared to then,everybody’s a lot more unified.”

It certainly sounded that way on stage. Though the degree to which these newfound bonds between formerly disparate workers under the AFL-CIO umbrella will lead to new strategies and new kinds of support (broader walkouts and shutdowns?), still remains to be seen. Including the degree to which this long hot labor summer — or long hot labor summer, to complete the Faulkerian riff, and to acknowledge its likely extent into fall — will actually cement all these newfound bonds.

MLWIncrediHeadMark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood and its contents and discontents in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”

Mark’s Union Roundup column will appear regularly, and he welcomes both tips and feedback at [email protected]. He can also be found on Twitter @TricksterInk.

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