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A major Hollywood union threatens to strike over streaming pay

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The union voted overwhelmingly to authorize a nationwide strike

los angeles iatse union film strike Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Members of a union representing tens of thousands of television and film production workers announced this week that its members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a nationwide strike over stalled negotiations on several new contracts. A strike could severely disrupt production across Hollywood — but only if the union determines its discussions for improved pay on streaming productions and better working conditions aren’t moving forward.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced Monday that 90 percent of its roughly 60,000 members participated in the vote, with 98 percent of those casting their ballots in favor of a strike authorization. What that meant isn’t that a strike was necessarily imminent, but that members authorized IATSE international president Matthew Loeb to call a strike should negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) — which represents major studios — continue to be stalled.

“I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members,” Loeb said in a statement on Monday. “The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.“

After IATSE made the results of the vote public on Monday, negotiations between the two parties resumed Tuesday, an AMPTP spokesperson confirmed to The Verge.

The authorization vote doesn’t necessarily mean that IATSE will strike, but should it happen, the ramifications would be felt industrywide. The Hollywood Reporter noted this week that one of the contracts being negotiated would impact production for major studios like Warner Bros. and MGM and most major streaming services, including Netflix, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, and more.

IATSE members include people involved with every major behind-the-scenes part of productions, from makeup artists to animators to broadcast technicians. So important is IATSE to the movie- and TV-making industries that the strike authorization has been backed with support from major Hollywood A-listers, including Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Seth Rogan, Ben Stiller, and more.

IATSE has been negotiating multiple successor contracts, and the union said Monday that the AMPTP had failed to make a counteroffer to its latest proposal. The workplace issues the IATSE is demanding be addressed include unsatisfactory wages for its lowest-paid members, excessive hours it deems unsafe, and a lack of adequate rest and meal breaks.

Another sticking point has been “new media” — or streaming productions — which receive “greater flexibility” on pay and benefits under the existing contract based on the idea that they may have to pay less to get the growing industry off the ground, according to IATSE.

Streaming looks far different today than when that agreement was made in 2009, and the union now says some streaming services are paying its members less than they should be making, “even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.” IATSE is negotiating “appropriate adjustments” to new media production payouts given how the space has evolved, Loeb said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week.

“Our members are working on productions where [producers are] spending inordinate amounts of money and [members are] taking pay hits. They’re working on productions with extremely high production value,” Loeb told the Los Angeles Times. Loeb additionally told the paper last week that the likelihood of a strike “depends largely on the employers and what they’re prepared to do to avoid it.”

The AMPTP said in a statement to The Verge that it “remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working.”

“We deeply value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the AMPTP said. “A deal can be made at the bargaining table, but it will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues.”

Even still, negotiations have been ongoing for months, and the fact that the union has voted near-unanimously to authorize a nationwide strike at all — the first time this has occurred in IATSE’s 128-year history — should send a pretty clear message to studios that the unions members are prepared to take unprecedented measures. And if their return to the bargaining table this week is any indication, studios heard union members loud and clear.