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Hollywood Union Members Narrowly Approve New IATSE Contract

The famous Hollywood sign with each letter painted in white and staked into the hillside.
Members of the IATSE union that represents Hollywood’s film and television production crews voted to ratify a new contract.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images)
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Hollywood loves nail-biters in movies and television series.

When it comes to contract voting, though, it’s far less comfortable with a close call.

By a very narrow margin, members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees ratified a new deal with producers in weekend voting results announced Monday.

The three-year agreement--which includes longer rest times, guaranteed meal breaks and higher wages--was approved by just 50.3% of IATSE’s members. That's the combined percentage for votes for what are actually two contracts -- the Basic Agreement, which covers more than 40,000 members in the West Coast locals, and the Area Standards Agreement, which covers about 20,000 members in IATSE local unions in other parts of the country.

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Looking at the popular vote results for the Basic Agreement alone, the contract was actually narrowly voted down, with 50.4% voting "no" and 49.6% voting "yes." For the Area Standards Agreement, the results were 52% "yes" and 48% "no."

But IATSE uses an electoral-college-style system for contract ratification, assigning delegates to each local based on the size of their memberships. And for both contracts, the delegate vote was majority "yes."

IATSE jobs include below-the-line positions such as costume designers, cinematographers, editors and makeup artists. More than 45,000 guild members cast ballots.

Ratification was hardly preordained.

In the union’s 128-year history, its more than 63,000 members never before had called for a national strike authorization vote. When negotiators for IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers could not agree on terms after nearly half a year of talks, IATSE was poised to go on strike, an historic action that would have halted immediately almost all film and TV production.

As that work stoppage neared a month ago, a tentative deal was reached. And it took only a few minutes for a number of IATSE members to flood social media, urging colleagues to vote against the contract.

The detractors said the collective bargaining agreement fell short in a variety of areas, including overtime hours, time off between the end of one workday and the start of the next--which can be as few as 10 hours under the new contract--and some wage increases that materially trail the current inflation rate.

“The vigorous debate, high turnout, and close election, indicates we have an unprecedented movement-building opportunity to educate members on our collective bargaining process and drive more participation in our union long-term,” IATSE International President Matthew Loeb said in a statement.

IATSE member Olga Lexell, who works as a writers' assistant, says she was largely undecided but ultimately voted yes for the deal.

“I was definitely on the fence and went back and forth many times.” Lexell said. “But ultimately, for me, I think that there's a lot more work to do culturally to change things within our industry. And I think there's a lot of stuff that won't change just based on what we get in a contract. But I'm personally excited that there's a weekend turnaround now, for me. I work on the weekends a lot, six and seven days. So I think that's going to be a big win for a lot of people as well."

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Costumer Andrea Wheeler also said she was conflicted, but decided to vote no, believing IATSE could have taken advantage of union solidarity and won more concessions from producers.

“When this contract came down and we had all that momentum going toward the strike, I do think there was a missed opportunity of maybe using the momentum to get something really great,” Wheeler said, adding she was nevertheless relieved that a deal has been reached.

While Alec Baldwin’s fatal shooting of cinematographer (and IATSE member) Halyna Hutchins was not a specific issue in contract talks, it did amplify concerns about set safety. Several people who either were working on “Rust” or are investigating her death said the production was complacent and cut corners to save money and time.

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