A landmark agreement was tentatively reached on behalf of some 400 formerly nonunion casting directors who could soon be working under their first-ever contract as a result of hard bargaining between their chosen union representative, the 1.4-million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the studios’ Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The contract’s details have yet to be disclosed—there will be a ratification vote in mid-January—but essentially casting directors on both the West and East Coast are expected to receive the substantial benefits package provided under the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension plans. If approved, the contract will start Feb. 1 and extend through September 2008. Teamsters Local 399 will represent the Hollywood casting directors and in New York it will be Teamsters Local 817. It remains to be seen whether the casting directors achieved another goal in the talks—that of getting rid of the practice of having to work substantial time without being compensated. The casting directors had indicated they would like to overhaul “the eight weeks plus three weeks” practice, where they’ve been expected to work for 11 weeks, but only get paid for the first eight.The tentative agreement caps a three-year uphill battle by the Teamsters Union to organize the casting directors. AMPTP initially tried to thwart the casting directors’ organizing effort, claiming they were independent contractors and not entitled to union representation. The casters, for their part, claimed the same right to organize as writers, directors, actors and all the below-the-line professionals in the entertainment industry. As a fallback, AMPTP offered pension and health benefits to the casting directors in lieu of unionizing, but the casters stood fast for full union rights.There was some contentious brinksmanship, including a threat last winter by the Teamsters to shut down every U.S. production on behalf of the casting directors’ right to unionize, which preceded the agreement with the AMPTP in February to hold the election under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board.Just prior to that agreement, the casting directors in January had threatened to strike. And the Teamsters said that if they did, their members, including drivers and location managers, would refuse to cross the picket lines. AMPTP president Nicholas Counter, in turn, charged that the Teamsters would be violating their contracts by engaging in an illegal secondary job action. When the NLRB-supervised election took place in July, casting directors voted 243-to-9 to unionize under the Teamsters, setting the stage for the long-anticipated contract talks with producers, which, after four contentious rounds, have finally produced a deal.
Written by Jack Egan