A new three-year Hollywood Basic Agreement between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Association of Movie and Television Producers has been ratified, with over 67 percent of the members casting ballots in favor of the pact that begins August 1 and concludes at the end of July, 2009.Wages, after compounding, will go up by nearly 12 percent over the three years of the contract and contributions to member pension plans will be increased. But out-of-pocket expenses for health care coverage are set to rise.However, the two-thirds vote in favor was down significantly from the 80 percent yes vote received the last time around. The reason for the slide in support was that two of the largest of the 17 IA locals with over a third of the 30,000 members covered by the agreement voted overwhelmingly to turn it down.The unions voting against were the International Cinematographers Guild, or Local 600, many of whose 5,700 members were irate about a provision in the contract that is viewed as putting the camera operator position in jeopardy; and the Affiliated Property Craftpersons union or Local 44, with 5,600 members.“The new IATSE contract for members working in motion picture and television production is quite frankly the envy of the industry,” IA president Tom Short said in a statement that accompanied the announcement of the vote on March 9. But the achievement, the fourth Basic Agreement negotiated by Short since he became IA president in 1994, was somewhat mitigated by the two locals that overwhelmingly failed to endorse it.ICG members, voted 94 percent against the pact. The tally was 2,227 votes against and 141 for the agreement. About 55 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.ICG president Gary Dunham had agreed to the provisional contract signed on December 8 that included the controversial clause, which permits producers to ask directors of photography to also operate without mandatory staffing of camera operators. But in January, directors of the union’s national executive board—the ultimate governing body of Local 600—met and unanimously recommended that it be turned down.At Local 44—which besides propmakers and prop masters, also represents set decorators, workers in special effects and construction coordinators—the vote was approximately 500 for the contract and 1,500 against, with about half of eligible members actually voting.The board of the Propmakers union had voted 10 to 8 against the contract, with objections centered on hikes in co-pays for doctor visits, hospitalization and prescription drugs that are in the new agreement. The board however decided to send out two letters to members with their ballots: one argued in favor of the agreement and the other against it.Ratification of the Basic Agreement is not determined by absolute votes. Instead it is based on a system similar to the electoral college that elects the President of the United States. Each of the unions gets a certain number of votes based on its proportionate membership size, and, depending on whether a majority of a guild votes yes or no, all of those votes are cast accordingly. There were 253 electoral votes cast for ratification and 114 against.(Local 44 business agent Ronnie Cunningham was the only one on the 55-member IA negotiating team to vote against the new agreement when it was provisionally concluded on December 8 after being hammered out in two weeks of intensive talks between IATSE and AMPTP. Cunningham was recently suspended by a unanimous vote of the local’s board from his key executive position at the union, following the filing of a member indictment against him alleging embezzlement and numerous other violations. He claimed his non-support of the contract triggered the action against him. See separate story, beginning on pg. 1.)The key pay and benefit provisions in the new contract are:â€¢ A 75-cent-an-hour wage increase in the first year of the contract and 3 percent for the second and third year.â€¢ An extra 50-cent contribution in the first year, with half going to the defined pension benefits, 20 cents toward the active member health plan and 5 cents for the retired members health plan.â€¢ The increase in wages and benefits over the three years comes to 11.6 percent, after compounding.â€¢ Employer contributions to the Individual Account Plan increase by 0.5 percent in both the second and third year of the contract. The contribution at the end of the third year rises to 6 percent.There are also some offsetting hikes in what union members and retirees must now pay for medical care. These include:â€¢ A new $50 co-payment goes into effect for visits to a hospital emergency room; after that the health plan pays 100 percent.â€¢ New fees for visiting a doctor or other medical professional of $25 for those living within a prescribed zone contiguous with the Motion Picture and Television Fund network; and $15 for those outside the zone. The co-pay is waived for anyone using a provider that belongs to the MPTF network.â€¢ Coverage for visits to a hospital or non-network treatment provider falls to 70 percent of costs; under the previous contract they had been 75 percent for hospitalization and 85 percent for out-of-network treatment.â€¢ Higher prescription co-payments for drugs. Increased co-pays, based on the nature of the drug and whether it is purchased at retail or by mail order, have been established for both current workers and retirees. The biggest boosts, in percentage terms, are borne by retirees.For cinematographers and camera operators, attention now switches to how the new contract language will get implemented. Among ICG members, the hope is that producers will realize that without the special skills camera operators provide, the costs on a shoot are more likely to go up than down, so eliminating them won’t save money.Meanwhile, the IATSE statement that accompanied the ratification announcement included pointedly feisty comments that critiqued the leadership of some of the locals: “Some officers in some unions, both inside and outside of the IATSE, have lost touch with what it means to work in the industry or hadn’t worked in the industry long enough to develop the background necessary to represent adequately their working membership before being elected to office.”“We have a couple of local unions that have too many chronically unemployed or retired officers and officers with issues that have kept them from working in the industry,” said Short. “I’m convinced that we need to make certain that the elected officers of our local unions work in the industry for a certain amount of time to be eligible to run for office.” Short specifically targeted the leadership of two non-IATSE entertainment unions: “We don’t want to end up emulating the Writers Guild West and Screen Actors Guild—guilds run by certain officers who don’t work in the industry.”Meanwhile, negotiating separately, IATSE Local 839, the Animation Guild, has announced it has reached an agreement with AMPTP along the lines of the Hollywood Basic. A ratification vote by the union’s 2,000 animation writers and artists is pending.
Written by Jack Egan