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11th November 2021

US Film Industry Strike of 60,000 Workers Narrowly Avoided

Production crew walk out prevented at last minute as union begins negotiations for better working conditions
US Film Industry Strike of 60,000 Workers Narrowly Avoided
Photo: The Icon- Hollywood Sign, by Russell Mondy @ flickr, 2019

Written by Sophie Hicks.

A US-wide Hollywood walkout was narrowly averted after over 60,000 production crew members threatened to leave their sets. If this strike was to go ahead, it would have severely disrupted filming, which is already delayed due to the ongoing pandemic.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) represents off-camera talent such as make-up artists, set designers, technicians and camera operators . Their chief role is to negotiate worker conditions with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) who work for some of the biggest producers in the industry including Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros, Netflix and Amazon.

Photo: Union of Stagehands and Wardrobe, IATSE, by Valfontis, Wikimedia Commons

Members of the IATSE have been pushed since lockdown restrictions eased and filming commenced. Increasing work demands as films now push to meet unrealistic studio deadlines have led crew members to question their working conditions. 14 hour shifts and wages below the minimum living wage led to outrage among IATSE members.

Therefore, on 4 October, the IATSE announced that their members voted in favour of a nationwide strike. The walkout, which was scheduled for Monday 18 October, would have caused disruptions in Los Angeles, New York, Georgia, New Mexico and Colorado. This would have been the first nationwide strike in the 128-year history of the IATSE and would have caused disruptions similar to the 2007-2008 strike by Hollywood screenwriters, which severely halted production. 

However, days before the strike was meant to take place, the AMPTP reached an agreement with the IATSE, and the strike was promptly called off. The tentative deal addresses many of the concerns raised by crew, with a proposal to have a 10-hour turnaround time between shifts and sees an increase in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. 

The deal, dubbed the ‘Basic Agreement’, would see an improved funding of health and pension plans, with a 3% increased rate per year for its staff. Furthermore, Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be a formalised holiday for the industry.

Representing a success for those not on the screen, the threat of strike action clearly shows the need for the industry to modernise. As the demand for streaming services skyrockets due to the pandemic, production crew contracts must also adapt. Past negotiations did not factor in the growth of streaming services as, ten years ago, production powerhouses such as Netflix were still in their infancy. 

Whilst the strike was primarily concerned with off-camera talent, many Hollywood stars flocked to social media to show their support. Octavia Spencer, Amy Schumer, Kristen Bell, Samuel L Jackson and Mindy Kaling all chose to back the strike. Similarly, The Directors Guild of America issued a formal statement of support, which was signed and approved by directors such as Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Barry Jenkins and Christopher Nolan. 

As it stands there is no more planned strike action. Whilst the IATSE still needs to vote on and approve this contract, it’s refreshing to see an entire industry come together to support one another. After the strains of the pandemic, the film sector should recognise and praise the work of their staff more than ever.

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