WILMINGTON — The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) is inching closer to the possibility of a nationwide strike after film crew members voted overwhelmingly to protest their work conditions and wages.
With the threat now looming, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) — the representative of major TV and film companies — says it will continue negotiations with IATSE, which may prevent a strike from ever being called.
“The ball is in the court of the AMPTP,” said Darla McGlamery, business agent of Wilmington-based IATSE Local 491. “It’s their turn to come to the bargaining table with less-than-insulting proposals.”
A rebellion by crew members, who are essential to film projects, would shut down productions across the U.S. That could include five ongoing projects in Wilmington at a time when film activity in the Cape Fear is peaking. Though the uptick has created jobs, workers are fed up with long workdays, often with hours in the double digits, and lower pay from streaming services, several of which have taken interest in the region.
IATSE reported a 90% voter turnout from Friday through the weekend on the strike authorization. More than 98% of the participants cast a ballot in favor of granting IATSE’s international president the power to initiate the strike.
“The members have spoken loud and clear,” president Matthew Loeb stated in a press release. “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 goal of the strike authorization is not for workers to actually walk off the sets. Instead, it is intended to force the AMPTP back to the bargaining table to pitch a “reasonable offer” in a successor contract covering 60,000 workers.
IATSE represents gaffers, grips, plasters and other “below-the-line” employees. IATSE Local 491 covers the Carolinas and Savannah, G.A.
“We did not want this,” McGlamery said. “We were forced to participate at this level to get their attention and tell them, ‘We’re serious. This is difficult.’”
The AMPTP received news of the vote results Monday morning. Though negotiations were previously at a standstill, an AMPTP spokesperson indicated the trade association is willing to move forward in discussions to protect the film business.
“The AMPTP remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working,” Jarryd Gonzales, a spokesperson for AMPTP, wrote in an email. “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. 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.”
McGlamery said she and union members are feeling positive about the solidarity of vote and what is to come.
“I do believe we will go back to the table, and I do believe that the AMPTP will sit down and bargain with us,” McGlamery said. “If they don’t, that means they never really wanted to.”
In a call Monday with IATSE leaders across the country, a timeline for negotiations was not discussed, McGlamery said.
If a strike did commence, it would be a first for IATSE in its 128-year history.
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