IATSE has sent out ballots to members of the 14 Hollywood locals, representing below-the-line crafts, for a ratification vote on the new three-year contract between the IA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), acting on behalf of the major studios. Ballots must be received by July 2 to be counted. A copy of the Memorandum of Agreement, containing specific but not final contract language, was also mailed.
“While we were successful in closing the healthcare and pension deficit of over $400 million, it has been a long and contentious road to this final stage of ratification,” IA International president Matthew Loeb wrote in a letter to the approximately 16,000 guild members that are eligible to vote on the pact that runs from Aug. 1 through July 31, 2015.
Loeb did not ask for a “yes” vote in the letter. He did, however, note that the deal “has the unanimous recommendation of the bargaining committee, which included all of the West Coast studio local unions’ negotiating committees, officers and representatives of the IA, as well as pension and healthcare experts.”
However, in the preface to the Memorandum, Loeb explicitly asked for approval: “I believe it is a good and fair contract. If I didn’t I wouldn’t recommend it. … I urge you to cast your vote in favor of ratifying the agreement.”
The backdrop to the talks included surging health care costs and a depletion in the Hollywood guilds’ reserves to fund benefits. The priority in the negotiations was therefore “to maintain and secure high quality health benefits with reasonable qualification levels and affordability.”
The main elements of the new agreement:
• Scale wages will increase by 2 percent during each of the three years of the contract.
• The studios have agreed to increase contributions to the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension plans by $250 million dollars. (Counting the contributions, the overall equivalent wage gains at the end of three years are estimated to reach 9 percent after compounding.)
• The studios will raise their contributions to the MPIHP from $5 to $6 an hour or 20 percent.
• IATSE members will, for the first time, pay premiums for health care coverage. The MPIHP will charge members with one dependent $25 a month; and $50 a month for members with two or more dependents. Members without dependents will continue to pay no premiums.
• Another concession, the “Studio Zone” in and around Los Angeles will be expanded geographically, potentially saving studios on salaries for crew who are paid less when working within the zone.
• A portion of the contributions to the Individual Account Plan will be re-allocated to support the long-term stability of the health plan.
The IA and local guilds started to work on a way to protect health benefits just after the closing of the last contract in 2009, according to Loeb. That agreement, he noted, contained hundreds of millions of dollars in benefit cuts, an increase in the hours required to qualify and additional out-of-pocket costs to the members. As part of the strategy to prevent a repeat, the IA president appointed a Benefits Bargaining Committee, hired nationally recognized professionals in benefits and health care costs to advise and educate the leadership and used focus groups. So when the recent round of negotiations began, wrote Loeb, “we were prepared.”
“Now we need to hear from you,” he said in his letter, urging members to cast ballots. He pointed out that, historically, less than one-third of members vote on any proposed contract.
While the IATSE guilds reached their tentative agreement two months ago, Teamsters Local 399, which had decided to negotiate in parallel with the IA guilds this year, broke off talks with AMPTP. It has not returned to the table since mid-April, so the clock is ticking. The Teamsters union contract with the studios also expires July 31.