The International Cinematographers Guild has put the kabosh on an initiative to enlist the union in an organized effort to file a trade action against Canada for subsidizing film and television production.In an unusual Sunday session, the executive board of Local 600 met on November 26 and voted 32 to 28 to turn down the proposal, which was backed by the Film and Television Action Committee, as a way to curb runaway production. The closeness of the vote reflected a continuing split in the ICG on the trade sanctions issue. A similar proposal in mid-2005, backed by former Local 600 president Gary Dunham was narrowly defeated. Instead the executive board agreed to spend $15,000 to back a study of the issue. IATSE president Tom Short has harshly criticized the tactic because the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees includes several Canadian guilds. There is also concern that a trade action would provoke retaliation. That hasn’t stopped some unions. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 40, is in favor. And Last October the non-IA Screen Actors Guild voted to back and financially support the filing in Washington of a so-called 301(a) petition under the Federal Trade Act of 1974. SAG agreed to put up $50,000 to help fund the action. Under a previous administration it had resisted such an effort. Though no specific sum was ever mentioned, the ICG board understood that an aye vote would entail a commitment along the lines of SAG’s contribution to further a filing.Before the executive board voted, each side produced what were in effect expert witnesses to argue the pros and cons of the case for the ICG to back the filing of an unfair trade petition. “Our board felt compelled to hear both sides of the 301(a) argument before deciding whether it wanted to spend the membership’s money on a costly legal process or to allocate the local’s limited resources toward other courses of action to level the playing field,” commented ICG president Steven Poster. “This meeting provided National Executive Board members the opportunity to hear all sides of the 301(a) argument and to make an informed decision.”Speaking in favor was attorney Alan Dunn, a partner in the Washington firm Stewart and Stewart, who has experience with trade cases and has already been retained by the Hollywood guilds favoring such an action. He estimated that it would cost $500,000 to bring a case under section 301(a) and that it stood a 75-percent chance of succeeding.That was disputed by Michael Punke, who had worked in the office of the United States Trade Representative during the Clinton Administration as a senior counsel. He suggested that $500,000 was a conservative estimate, and that the chance of success, without the backing of other industry groups like the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, was a scant five percent. The length of time such a case would take to move forward was also at issue. Dunn estimated about four months, though he acknowledged there were numerous procedural hurdles to overcome. The former USTR attorney said three years was more realistic.Punke asserted an attack on Canadian subsidies could trigger a counterattack on incentives offered by a number of states in this country. He also noted that the federal government had legislated subsidies for low-budget productions in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.It remains to be seen how much the ICG’s negative vote has hobbled the campaign to bring a trade case against Canada.
Written by Jack Egan