Opposition to the tentative contract reached between IATSE and the studios has emerged on a new internet site and on a Facebook group page. In both instances there’s a call for the 20,000 members of the 15 below-the-line guilds represented by the IA in the talks to vote “no” on the deal. It has not yet been submitted to members for ratification.
The argument against the agreement negotiated by the IA with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is that it short-changes members financially at a time when the entertainment conglomerates are raking in huge profits, introduces a medical plan co-payment provision for the first time and could be improved upon in other ways, especially when it comes to what are considered onerous working conditions.
“We are staring down the barrel of another tentative agreement that continues our poor working conditions and asks too much of us in regards to our health and pension plans,” according to the web site, Say No to the Contract, Fight for Your Future (http://saynotothecontract.com), which recently popped up on the internet (the backers are not identified). “The AMPTP represents billions of dollars of profit and all we ask is to share in the rewards that the content we create provides. This agreement does not do us justice; it is not equitable; and it is not right. We deserve better.”
The Facebook Group “2012 IATSE Contract Forum” which was originally a place to share information and generate solidarity for the IA negotiators has drastically changed its mission statement: “The only purpose of this group is now officially rededicated to voting down the Proposed Agreement of the 2012-2015 IATSE/AMPTP Contract,” the page now says. “We must spread the word that this Proposed Agreement must be voted down.” The objective was changed shortly after the tentative pact was announced two weeks ago.
The sudden shift in focus on the Facebook page has taken some of the more than 3,000 members of the group by surprise. “This forum has been hijacked,” said one member who is a strong backer of the deal.
“I have not stopped anyone from advocating a ‘yes’ vote and made sure the Group has stayed open for free and fair discussion,” responds one of the administrators of the group page who spearheaded the change in objective. “This tentative agreement is symptomatic of the larger issue of unfettered corporate greed,” he explains. “We are only asking that if you want to treat us like slave labor, then we should be paid accordingly for the privilege.”
The new three-year Hollywood Basic Agreement that will take effect August 1 if approved includes a 2 percent annual wage increase. That is deemed subpar by opponents. “Historically we have gotten a 3 percent raise, but during this cycle it has been reduced to 2 percent,” asserts Say No to the Contract. “Unfortunately, it isn’t enough,” it adds, citing statistics that the government’s consumer price index for the twelve years from 2000 to 2011 has climbed by an average of 2.55 percent each year. “Why would we accept a raise that can’t even keep up with inflation?” it asks, “especially when those of us with families are being asked to pay a healthcare premium.”
Under the contract that has been negotiated, IATSE members will for the first time pay premiums for health care coverage. The Motion Picture Industry Health Plan (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.
The introduction of the premiums was a minimum concession, according to the IA, for AMPTP agreeing to hike their health plan contribution rate by $1-an-hour, going from $5 to $6 – a 20% increase. It’s estimated the $1 increase will result in about $225 million in new and additional payments to the health plan. The IA contends that the extra $1 an hour that will be paid by the studios into MPIHP effectively more than doubles the 2 percent wage gain.
“What those opposed to the agreement don’t acknowledge, and I think there aren’t that many, is that we faced a $400 million hole in our health and pension plans going into these negotiations and we wound up filling that gap,” says the head of one of the Guilds. “This is a tremendous victory, and the feedback I continue to get is that the contract will be approved by a large margin.”
Another complaint enunciated by the opponents is the lack of improvement in working conditions, though credit is given to the IA negotiators for resisting demands from the studios for give-backs: “We know they held the line in regards to the AMPTP’s demand for interchangeability and massive wage rollbacks. And for that they should be commended.” The studios were asking for crew on request to work outside their designated area of expertise, referred to as interchangeability. This concept was vigorously opposed by the IA and the Locals because it would lead to inefficiencies, but more crucially, because it raised serious safety issues.
But a litany of grievances about job conditions during a shoot are aired. These include rules that allow for double time only after working 14 hours, turnarounds between the end of a day’s shoot and the start the next morning of only 9 or 10 hours, and no prohibitive penalties for working eight or more days in a row. “All of the things that are driving you into an early grave with 70+ hour weeks that end at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday and start again at 7:00 a.m. on Monday,” says the website.
An important issue in dispute is the implication of a “no” vote. The IA takes the position that “if you elect to vote no, you will be electing to authorize a strike.” Say No to the Contract makes a distinction with a difference: a vote against authorizes a strike but is not in itself a vote to strike. “You are only giving President Loeb the power to call a strike should he deem it necessary. A ‘no’ vote does not automatically mean we are striking.”
The IA is more explicit. “In order to demand more and not have the employers view a return to the table as an opportunity to take back, your bargaining committee must have the authority to call for a strike in the likely event that the employers are unwilling to increase their current offer.”
Say No to the Contract ultimately backs off from taking too hard a line and tries to be conciliatory. “This site was not created to bash the IA or to demonize President Loeb and the IATSE leadership or any of our Local leadership,” it states. But “President Loeb, for better or for worse, agreed too quickly to an agreement that does not serve the membership. And since the IA and our Local leadership are enthusiastically telling us to vote ‘yes,’ we felt it was only fair that you hear the other side of the argument.”