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A huge swath of what we modernly consider the Geek Universe may be affected by Monday’s overwhelming vote by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees’ (IATSE) members to authorize a nation-wide strike — for the first time in the union’s 128 year history.

Commonly known as IATSE (Eye-At-See), the union represents over 150,000 craft and tech people in the US and Canada. They are the behind-the-scenes essential personnel like lighting, camera, sound, makeup, designers, animators, and more. There would literally be no streaming, TV, or movies without them. All of it is being threatened by the situation, not just science fiction, fantasy and horror films and series, but everything.

During the pandemic we’ve been taking refuge in streaming services to watch things like Marvel’s What If …?, Wandavision, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Lower Decks. While a number of productions are in the can and ready to go, a lot of new production that would be starting up will have to wait until the bad pay and production situations are resolved.

Star Trek: Picard, for example, just wrapped shooting on Season 2, but are only just starting Season 3, so that could be affected. The new HBO series House of the Dragon, a prequel series to Game of Thrones, has only just begun filming, but while most of it is being shot in England, parts are shooting in California.

The strike would have a rolling effect on productions coast-to-coast, impacting smaller-scale projects in the short term, like live shows and daytime soaps, an industry expert told Insider. As more time goes on, the effects can cascade into bigger budget projects with longer production schedules, like streaming and feature films, especially those in the middle of shooting or post-production.

On-set production hours are frequently grueling. 14-16 hours every day, including weekends. No lunch or even bathroom breaks allowed! Of course the executives don’t have to work those schedules. IATSE is asking for a limit on hours per day.

The current wage scale is from over 10 years ago when streaming was called “New Media” and the pay rate was very low to “help the new media”. Members are asking that the big streamers now pay the same rate as everyone else.

98% voted in favor of strike authorization prior to resuming negotiations Tuesday.

“The members have spoken loud and clear,” said IATSE president Matthew Loeb 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. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage.”

The other Entertainment unions quickly voiced their support.

Unions showing solidarity for strike

Further, it’s normal for Hollywood’s labor unions to show support for each other during labor disputes, but the support for IATSE during its current contract dispute goes beyond the usual labor solidarity. That’s because the below-the-line workers’ union could be setting a standard for all future Hollywood contracts in the streaming era.

The Directors Guild support is especially important and has to give the studios pause for thought. Look at the famous directors on the letter. And almost all Hollywood directors are members. DGA negotiations are usually quick, the studios do not want to fight them.

A statement from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG): ”Our rights and our benefits have been slowly eroded and we haven’t kept up,“ SAG-AFTRA L.A. local VP David Jolliffe said.

The studios are represented by The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade association that represents over 350 US television and film production companies.

The authorization does not signal an immediate strike but does increase pressure on the AMPTP to agree to more favorable terms for IATSE. On an Action Network petition page, IATSE laid out its four major issues:

  1. Excessively unsafe and harmful working hours.
  2. Unlivable wages for the lowest-paid crafts.
  3. Consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends.
  4. Workers on certain “new media” streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.

The AMPTP says that it has addressed the union’s demands with a proposal that includes increases of 10-19% in minimum wages for some members, an 18% increase in minimums for certain new media productions, and covering the $400 million deficit in the IATSE Health Plan without raising premiums and other healthcare costs like deductibles and co-pays for dependents.

Logo for Producers

In addition, IATSE members are engaging in an extensive campaign on social media and elsewhere. Creating the Instagram page IAStories where members share their financial and mental struggles with long hours and low pay.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers presented its latest proposal today. A union spokesperson said the offer is being reviewed.

However, one union official said that the offer was little different from the previous proposal.

“It’s a big nothingburger,” the official said.

Other officials have been optimistic that a resounding strike authorization vote — with almost 99% voting in favor — would lead to enough concessions to reach a deal within the next few days.

The previous Basic Agreement with producers expired on September 10th. There are a handful of separate contracts that would not be affected by a strike, including for low-budget films and shows made for HBO, Starz, BET and Showtime.

“[A strike] could affect the general public in that they may not have as much content to view in the future,” said management-side entertainment labor lawyer Alan Brunswick. “It could slow down production of motion pictures and television shows, and that includes shows that will be on digital services like Amazon or Netflix.”

If IATSE has to strike to get a fair deal, please be patient. New shows are great. And the people who make them have earned our support.

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David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.

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