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Casting Directors Election Result

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Casting directors in a tidal wave of approval opted last month to have the Teamsters union represent them, setting the stage for long-awaited contract talks with producers.The 243-to-9 vote to unionize and join Los Angeles Local 399 and New York Local 817 of the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters “represents a mandate from the casting directors for us to achieve a strong collective bargaining agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers” said Steve Dayan, the business agent for Local 399. Dayan spearheaded the three-year organizing effort and will head the negotiating team in the upcoming sessions. “No talks have been scheduled, but we expect them to begin this summer,” he said.“In light of the election results, we will honor our duty to bargain in good faith,” said AMPTP spokesperson Barbara Brogliatti.“We’re looking forward to very positive, if difficult, negotiations with AMPTP,” Gary Zuckerbrod, speaking on behalf of the casting directors, told Below The Line. He predicted the bargaining sessions would not get too drawn out. “When you have such an overwhelming vote, it means you have the rank and file behind you.”The goal is to “achieve a basic contract that includes pension, welfare and medical benefits; and a grievance and arbitration procedure,” said the former president of the Casting Society of America, who is in his fourth season of casting CBS’s Without a Trace.The casting directors, he said, would also like to do away with uncompensated work and long-delayed payments from producers. They’d especially like to overhaul what’s referred to as “the eight weeks plus three weeks” deal that’s common, where they are expected to work for 11 weeks, but only get paid for the first two months. “We want to be paid for all the time we work,” said Zuckerbrod.In the election, conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, only 300 ballots were sent out. A casting director had to have worked on a studio project between February 2004 and March 2005 to have been eligible to vote, based on an understanding reached with AMPTP.However, once a collective bargaining agreement is achieved, some 550 casting directors will become eligible to join one of the two Teamster locals in LA and New York. “That doesn’t mean they have to join,” said Dayan.Those who do will be obligated to pay dues and also to support other Teamsters nationwide on work issues and strike actions. Also, before any casting directors can get rostered, they will have to have worked at least 30 days.There was some bitter jousting, including a threat last winter by the Teamsters to shut down every US production on behalf of the casting directors’ right to unionize, that preceded the agreement with the AMPTP in February to hold the election under the auspices of the NLBR.AMPTP had long resisted the attempt by the casting directors to organize, claiming they were independent contractors. The casting directors contended they had 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 casting directors stood fast for full union rights.At an impasse, the casting directors last January said they would 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 the Teamsters would be violating their contracts by engaging in an illegal secondary job action.Nonethless, the Teamsters persisted. “We are here to do what we have to do to get the job done,” Local 399 secretary-treasurer Leo Reed told an industry-wide rally held in support of the casting directors held at the Writers Guild in late January. “All that matters is how hard we can kick their asses.”A wide swath of above-the-line talent, including such notables as directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Mike Nichols; actors Hillary Swank, Warren Beatty and George Clooney; and even a few producers, including Joe Roth, put their name on a petition endorsing the casting directors’ cause.The strike threat by the casting directors was withdrawn when AMPTP agreed to the NLRB-supervised vote.According to Zuckerbrod, the casting directors held discussions some eight or nine years ago with IATSE about organizing as a union under the IA umbrella, “but they did not turn out favorably for us.”“The casting directors came to the Teamsters because they felt nobody else was really going to go to bat for them,” said Local 399 organizer Dayan. “They appreciated the fact that our members were ready to walk off our jobs for them.”

Written by Jack Egan

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