The challenges of the pandemic have revitalized a labor movement beaten back by crumbling workers’ rights protections and increased owner power. It makes sense that energy is growing in one notoriously exploitative industry: Tinseltown.
On October 4, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), a union of television and film production workers, announced that for the first time in its 128 year history, its members have authorized a nationwide strike over “quality of life issues.” According to IATSE, 90% of eligible union voters participated — representing over 52,000 workers nationally — and over 98% voted in favor of strike authorization. While the vote doesn’t automatically trigger a strike, it empowers IATSE to call one as negotiations proceed with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major studios including the big streaming companies.
IATSE workers are pushing for caps on the number of hours a production can shoot per day, rest periods, and higher wages for the lowest-paid positions, according to The Wrap. Predictably, the studios have resisted attempts to formally shorten production workdays because doing so would raise production costs, prioritizing overall expenses over its workers. IATSE International resident Matthew Loeb said in a statement, “This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry. Our people have basic human needs, like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend.”
And the rest of Hollywood is watching closely, as IATSE’s strike could set industry standards for the streaming era. “The issues impacting IATSE are impacting all the other guilds, especially residuals and conditions around streaming,” Writers Guild of America West member Brenden Gallagher told The Wrap. “The studios want to lower rates and push on the sort of things that labor groups have fought for, and they see streaming as a new medium that can disrupt all that.”
Workers across the entertainment industry have shown support for an IATSE strike: actors including Auli’i Cravalho, Francia Raisa, Mae Whitman, Cynthia Nixon, Stephanie Beatriz, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Jameela Jamil, Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant, and writer Roxane Gay have all expressed solidarity.
“I stand with the thousands of people behind the scenes who are the glue that keeps our industry together,” actor Lucy Hale shared on her Instagram. “They deserve rest, recovery, better working conditions, and our support. Because of them, we have the entertainment that has gotten us through the worst and best of times. They are there long before any actor steps foot on a set and hours after we wrap. Beyond their job duties, many of these people have become close friends & some like family… They’ve supported me and I promise to do the same for them. I stand with IATSE and every single crew member I’ve worked with and met along the way.”
Politicians including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, and Mondaire Jones have all voiced support for the strike. In advance of the IATSE vote on October 1, over a hundred Congressional Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders sent a letter to AMPTP, calling on them to negotiate a fair contract with IATSE. “The current contract under negotiation covers approximately 60,000 motion picture and television production workers across the country. Failure to reach an agreement would threaten not only the livelihoods of these workers but also their family members who rely upon work in your industry, sending shockwaves throughout the U.S. economy and the industry,” their letter reads in part.
Negotiations between AMPTP and IATSE are ongoing.
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue