The 13 film and television locals of IATSE, consisting of 43,000 members and making up a majority of the West Coast crew, have voted to ratify a new three-year agreement with producers (AMPTP), ending the possibility of a strike that would have brought a temporary stop to Hollywood production. A majority of members in 12 of the 13 locals voted “Yes” to ratify a controversial contract that includes increases to wages and benefit funding, but the process included a contentious three months since a tentative agreement was reached July 26th.
The 2018-2021 contract includes $153 million in new health benefit funding, increases in turnaround (the rest break between wrap and the next day’s call time), and a new media residual that covers big-budget (over $30 million) movies made for Netflix and other subscription streaming services. Opposition to contract — which radiated from inside local 700, the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild, but spread through other locals — centered around the belief the contract did not go far enough to make up from the loss of residuals stemming the industry’s shift toward streaming-only content like Netflix Originals or protecting crew from long hours.
In step with IATSE’s history, a majority of members in each local followed the recommendation of its leadership in how they voted, but the push toward ratification was far from business as usual. Since a tentative agreement was announced, IATSE President Matthew Loeb and the leaders of locals received unexpected blowback as members questioned the deal. Fearful that opposition of an engaged minority could dominate the vote of a traditionally unengaged union, IATSE’s efforts to get out the vote were unprecedented, launching a “vote yes” website, spending tens of thousands of dollars on mailers and targeted Facebook ads, and leadership actively visiting sets, sending emails, and making phone calls to prevent a strike.
Based on the numbers that have shared with members in Local 695 and 600, IATSE’s efforts resulted in 36 percent of members mailing a valid ballot, which leaders say is a sharp uptick compared to previous elections.
Matthew Loeb at the 2018 Art Directors Guild Awards
Local 700, led by National Director Cathy Repola, also made a significant effort to turn out the vote of its members, but through cost-free methods like meetups, phone banking, and a podcast in which Repola continued to educate members on why she believed the contract was not in their best interest. The results of Local 700’s vote were staggering, with 89 percent voting against ratification and 71 percent of the 7,000-plus members mailing in their ballots. In her letter to Local 700 members on the evening of October 10, Repola discussed embracing the way her membership banded together as a victory and looking toward next steps.
“We must now turn our focus on building upon your activism, involvement and interest in your union,” wrote Repola. “We must reinvent our union and unite around common goals. We will continue to be under political and social attacks in this country and face challenges in future collective bargaining. We must look within ourselves, each one of us, to see how we can contribute to the future success of this union.”
In the fight to save the contract and defend himself against criticism, Loeb attacked Repola’s personal motives and called her actions illegal, after having iced Repola out of the final round of contract negotiations with producers. Now that the contract has passed, all eyes turn to Loeb to see how he handles Repola and her thousands of followers. Loeb’s term as president carries through the 2021 contract negotiations and he enters the next three years with a tremendous increase in membership engagement and key issues surrounding work hours and residuals still on the table.
Yet possibly the largest issue facing IATSE falls outside Loeb and Repola’s debate. One of the triggers for member alarm heading into this round of contract negotiations was benefit funding had fallen to 67 percent, down from 80 percent three years prior. IATSE actuaries based their predictions of the union’s future financials on receiving an 8 percent rate of interest (ROI), but with interest rates so low the only way to receive returns that high is investing in less stable financial markets. After falling short of their 8 percent ROI on the last contract, actuaries lowered the projection to a 7.5 percent, but in the first six months of 2018 the ROI for the year was at -0.4 percent.
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