SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Picket signs were left in storage and cameras rolled as normal early this week after the union representing behind-the-scenes film workers called off a threatened nationwide strike.
Around Wilmington, Fox’s “Our Kind of People” was back shooting at Cape Fear Country Club; Netflix’s “Florida Man” continued production on its built-out at The Pointe; Amazon’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty” was capturing shots at Capt’n Bill’s, a restaurant-bar-volleyball venue.
But just because the strike was canceled doesn’t mean film workers in North Carolina landed a deal. At this point, terms have only been reached for a similar union contract on the West Coast.
Earlier this month, IATSE members voted overwhelmingly to strike if demands for improved work conditions and wages weren’t met in their next contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the representative of major TV and film companies like Warner Bros. and Netflix.
As talks lagged, IATSE’s members prepped for a strike, starting at 4 a.m. Monday. In Wilmington, potential picketers made plans to congregate in front of the EUE/Screen Gems Studios in protest of the productions housed there. More picket lines were arranged for western parts of the state, including in Fletcher and Marshall, as well as in Savannah, G.A., and Charleston, S.C.
Then, on Saturday, IATSE and AMPTP shook hands on a deal for the Basic Agreement, the contract covering 13 local unions along the West Coast. At that point, the strike was deemed averted. IATSE called, texted and emailed its 60,000 film crew members to stand down.
In the IATSE Local 491 jurisdiction, which comprises the Carolinas, 60 picket captains communicated the message to their teams.
IATSE and AMPTP leaders were back at the table Wednesday to bargain on the Area Standards Agreement (ASA), the second major contract that covers the rest of the country, from New York to Illinois to North Carolina.
Being about a century old, the Basic Agreement was prioritized. Darla McGlamery, business agent at Wilmington-based IATSE Local 491, called the West Coast contract the “mothership,” since its aspects and language are reflected in almost every film and television agreement that came thereafter.
Now that a tentative deal for the Basic Agreement is done, attorneys are finalizing the language. Once prepared, the members in Hollywood will review the document and take a vote to ratify the contract.
A similar timeline is expected to follow for crews under the ASA: Once the tentative agreement of the ASA is struck (which McGlamery envisions happening this week), the attorneys will form the memorandum. Soon after members will receive a copy of the fine print to consider. About 10 days later, Local 491 is planning to host a town hall to tackle questions and concerns that remain.
“They can have 3 minutes at the mic to yell at us, praise us or tell us what we could do better,” McGlamery said on a phone call Wednesday.
The IATSE members will have their voices heard officially when the votes to ratify the contracts take place. It’s possible the Basic and ASA agreements will be voted on at the same time. It’s also possible the results could go different ways. If it’s a no for either, negotiators will return to the table. If one is a yes, that would become effective.
“There is an end in sight, but the timeframe definitely is a bit choppy, in terms of what’s the next cycle,” McGlamery said. “Do we stay on this hamster wheel or do we put this down, go back to work and move forward?”
Details about the Basic contract are gradually emerging, giving craftsmen on the East Coast a clue of what’s to come in their markets. Already, IATSE leaders are hearing some backlash for what they’re presenting out west. Some crew members are suggesting the terms don’t go far enough on issues like grueling shifts, which regularly surpass 12 hours. Others have raised concerns about the wage increase sitting at just 3% and a lack of extra residuals from streaming services for retirement and health plans.
McGlamery believes the dissatisfaction seems heightened on social media, and some participants stirring the pot are not from the industry.
“People ran and jumped the gun, thinking that everything was done, when we were not done yet and have not concluded the Area Standards Agreement,” McGlamery said.
In a press release, IATSE boasted its success in the fight for more rest time, lunch breaks, living wages, and improvements in compensation from new-media companies, also known as the streaming services. Their initial list of achievements included:
- Living wages in the lowest-paid markets
- Improved wages and working conditions on streaming projects
- Retroactive wage increases of 3% annually
- Increased compensation for when crews miss lunch, known as meal penalties
- Mandatory 10-hour turnaround between shifts
- At least 54 hours of rest over the weekend
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday added as a holiday
- Adoption of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives
“We went toe-to-toe with some of the richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies in the world, and we have now reached an agreement with the AMPTP that meets our members’ needs,” IATSE International President Matthew Loeb stated in the release.
The union released further details Tuesday on Twitter, but only for the Basic Agreement, though the ASA is supposed to be comparable.
Because of the historic strike authorization vote, members have a say this year in approving the contracts, which are revisited every three years. In its 130-year history, IATSE has never gone on strike. It’s still a possibility a work stoppage could cease productions nationally if the ratifications are shot down and efforts to restart bargaining fail.
McGlamery said she is hopeful negotiations will wrap on the ASA this week, but it’s been back-and-forth bargaining since March. IATSE hit a two-week standstill with the AMPTP in September before officially threatening the strike. After IATSE’s president received authorization to call the strike, talks resumed slowly, according to the union, and ramped up once the strike deadline was set on Oct. 13 for this past Monday.
McGlamery acknowledges the union may have lost some leverage by calling off the strike before a deal was met for the rest of the U.S., but she stresses a work stoppage was never the end goal.
“It was a tool of last resort,” she said. “It was to get our bargaining partners back to the table to communicate with us and bargain with us. And we’re just not done yet.”