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Teamsters Local 399 Election


A looming strike was averted
and a collective sigh of relief
could be heard in Hollywood.
The Teamsters and four other
craft unions reached a tentative
agreement with producers in early
July on a new three-year contract
that avoids some nettlesome wage
concessions but could lead to the
scheduling of more reality shows
on television—which use far fewer
union members—as an offset.
The pending deal, still subject
to ratification, came surprisingly
early—three weeks before the
end-of-July strike deadline—and
followed hardball threats prior to
the talks to shut down and picket
every production site in the country
if no accord was reached by
July 31, when the present contract
was set to expire.
The agreement was unveiled at
a special Sunday morning meeting
on July 11 at the Sportsmen’s
Lodge in Studio City, where 1,000
union members raucously cheered
Leo T. Reed, secretary-treasurer
of Teamster Local 399, when he
announced that there would be no
strike. Reed was lead negotiator as
chairman of the five crafts unions,
representing 5,000 members.
Besides his union’s drivers, location
managers and scouts, he also
represented members of Local 40
of the International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers; Local
724 of Laborers International;
Local 755 of Plasterers and
Cement Masons; and Local 78 of
Journeymen and Apprentices of
the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting
“They capitulated,” said Reed
of the producers, represented by
the Alliance of Motion Picture &
Television Producers (AMPTP).
Reed said a key to the outcome
was a show of solid support from
other union leaders all the way up
to International Brotherhood of
Teamsters president James Hoffa
to back up their threat to close down production. Reed and members
of his negotiating team had
flown to Washington earlier in
the week to get personal assurances
from Hoffa that the entire
Teamsters union was behind
The view of AMPTP president
and chief negotiator Nick Counter
was different: “If they think keeping
production going is ‘capitulation’
then I don’t understand what
the word means.”
However, a big element in
reaching an agreement was the
willingness of the AMPTP to
come to terms without insisting
that the Teamsters and its group
accept a 23 percent reduction in
wage levels for low-budget television
shows, which was a provision
in the contract negotiated last year
by the International Alliance
of Theatrical Stage Employees
(IATSE) for its members.
In a side letter to that contract,
IA president Tom Short agreed
the 23 percent cut would stay in
place only if the Teamsters agreed
to the same concessions. Feeling
boxed in by another union on his
negotiations, the Teamsters’ Reed
was infuriated. “Nowhere in the
annals of union history do we find
a contract provision as spiteful
and destructive to another union,”
Reed wrote in an open letter to his
When the Teamsters
and other craft
unions utterly balked
at accepting the cut,
AMPTP agreed to let
them off the hook.
“That was a rough
issue that didn’t get
resolved the way we
would have liked,”
said Counter. “Our
analysis was that the
money we would be
saving was not significant. And
the tradeoff is there will be one or
more ‘reality’ shows being put on
the air and without the Teamsters.
That’s unfortunately the economics
of television these days.”
Ironically, in cutting its deal,
the Teamsters also has helped the
IA members, since they are no longer
subject to the 23 percent wage
reduction provision to which their
leadership agreed. That’s an irony
not lost on Joe Kaplon, one of the
lawyers negotiating on behalf of
the Teamsters.
“There’s a big philosophical
difference between Leo Reed and
Tom Short,” notes Kaplon. “Tom
truly believes that if you agree to
wage reductions that make movies
and television shows more affordable,
you can keep more work in
this area and limit runaway production.
Leo doesn’t believe that.
When you have actors making $20
million salaries, that’s the place
to cut and not the bottom of the
wage scale. It’s a difference in philosophy
and, unfortunately, it’s
prevented the two of them from
working together because the difference
is so deep-seated.”

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