As the year begins, it may be appropriate for below-the-line industry craft workers to pay some heed to Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant. As the grasshopper fiddled the summer away, the crafty ants were busy storing food for the winter ahead.This new year is starting strong for members of Hollywood guilds, by most accounts. Production is busy and jobs are said to be abundant. Indeed, activity may get much stronger as the days get longer. But that acceleration would be just a silver lining around a dark cloud that hangs over Hollywood as 2007 commences, in the form of a feared de facto—if not an actual—strike, later in the year.What’s got the heads of the IATSE entertainment guilds steamed and IA chief Tom Short publicly irate is the decision late last year by the leadership of the Writer’s Guild of America West to postpone the start of negotiations with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers on a new contract until September, two months before expiration. Originally such talks were to have begun at the start of this year.Concern is building that, in reaction to this, production may accelerate in the first part of the year, only to slacken later, repeating the pattern of 2001 when the WGA went to the brink with its negotiations, finally reaching an agreement in June, a month after their contract had expired.Following an anticipatory speed-up by the studios and networks, as they stockpiled scripts and hastened deadlines to complete projects, production slowed down significantly in 2002. According to figures from the IA, the number of contribution hours received by the Motion Industry Picture Pension Health Plans for production workers were down by 27 percent when comparing the two quarters prior to negotiations with the two quarters after.Pointing to such figures, Short, not known for understatement, accused the WGA leadership of “irresponsibility and incompetence” in refusing to meet with AMPTP as the year begins. If a de facto strike develops, as now seems likely, Short says “IA working families will not only lose their livelihoods but work hours necessary to keep them eligible for health insurance, pensions and other IA benefits.” No local IA union head would comment on the record about the situation. But privately most saw the outlook as bleak. “The WGA has really backed itself into a corner,” lamented one leader. Meanwhile, when IATSE guild leaders were asked what they were telling their members, all gave the same one word response: Save!In other words, 2007 is the year to be a prudent ant—not a profligate grasshopper.
Written by Jack Egan