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Union Roundup – August 2003

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A Few Words from Captain Troy
While the biggest “union news” in Hollywood of late is the failure of SAG –AFTRA to approve a merger (while most members of those guilds wanted to merge, the SAG side fell two percent short of the “super-majority” numbers needed), the question it begs—and we have begged it here – is whether “union merging” is the correct response to corporate merging, and whether that gives members more clout or less. SAG is still having a lively debate over that as it faces another presidential election.
IATSE, on the other hand, recently pulled off its in-house merger: General memberships of the 900-person Art Directors Guild (Local 876) voted with the 700-strong Scenic, Title and Graphic Artists (Local 816) to merge into one, becoming Local 850, the Art Directors Guild & Scenic, Title and Graphic Artists. There were but a handful of votes against the conjoining.
But IATSE has an additional strategy, as well: Finding skill sets in the world of production that still – unlikely as it seems – haven’t found a union niche to belong to. A recent example is Local 80 – the grips – taking in “the Marines” – the wet heads who run and crew boats and set underwater rigging – after they had been, so to speak, out at sea, in terms of union repping.
Union Roundup caught up with Captain Troy Waters as he was about to pilot his working picture boat and some crew members from San Pedro to help shoot a beer commercial. Were those Movie Marines fully unionized yet? “We have not been recognized as union folk by the producers,” said the Captain – though IATSE has been petitioning the AMPTP every three months. But, Waters adds, “the studios have given us defacto recognition,” i.e., the pay scales and the benefits. But when the producers come around, “we’ll have our own page in the book,” like production codes for this particular crafts, which now include marine coordinator, assistant marine coordinator, marine best boy, coxswain (the “driver” of the boat), deck hands, dock masters, beach masters and underwater rigging divers.
“A lot of different crafts have their own divers,” he notes, citing cinematography and props. But, he adds, prior to being taken in by Local 80, when it came to boats, productions that were ocean or shore-town based – like The Perfect Storm – “might have hired local boatmen: ‘You’re our camera boat!.’” without necessarily requiring previous film production knowledge. He likens it to a production going to a town, and saying “we’re gonna go do car stunts, and hiring people off the streets.” With local cars. “Productions will be much safer with union marine crew.”
But other unions didn’t necessarily see it that way before. Previous approaches to transportation Local 399 and props Local 44 were unsuccessful. But then Local 80 approached them, or rather, the courtship was “half and half,” in Waters’ words, as most good courtships are – and the Marines had a safe harbor at last in terms of union repping.
So despite the foot-dragging from the AMPTP, the union work was flowing in. While idling at San Pedro, Waters said the cerveza gig represented “another union job for us,” in an increasing stream of them, though Waters acknowledged they’re all on a “production-by-production basis.” Among the Marine duties was to take “this little rock outcropping in San Pedro – we had to dress this thing like it was a deserted island,” replete with prop palm trees. Local 80 Marine boats and divers were used to haul items to the outcropping that other crew members would eventually light and position.
Waters noted that some nautical workers from Hawaii and Florida have joined 80 in order to be eligible to work on West Coast shores. Total membership for the Local 80 Marines numbers “about 150 people.” He’s not sure if the likely approval would spur workers at those other locales to likewise organize, and isn’t sure if they have a critical mass of people. Meanwhile, he underscores his appreciation for the IA, “doing everything to make (approval) happen.”
By Mark London Williams

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