About 60,000 workers in the film and television industry will go on strike starting on Monday unless their union and employers can agree on a deal for fair and safe working conditions. The strike would force productions all over North America to pause, further delaying the release of content that has been backed up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is asking for safety measures for just that reason.
"Without an end date, we could keep talking forever," IATSE president Matthew Loeb told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Our members deserve to have their basic needs addressed now." The union represents crew members on TV and movie sets in Georgia, New Mexico and other prominent filming locations around the continent. Some of its most pressing demands include specific guarantees for rest and meal breaks during shifts, as well as higher pay for its lowest-paid members.
We will continue bargaining with the producers this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement that addresses core issues, such as reasonable rest periods, meal breaks, and a living wage for those on the bottom of the wage scale. #IASolidarity— Matthew D. Loeb (@matthewloeb) October 13, 2021
The entertainment industry was hit hard by the pandemic, and it faced constant publicity battles when sets began to reopen. Frustrated IATSE workers have said that they have been subjected to harsh conditions in the rush to "catch up," and that already imperfect conditions have deteriorated. IATSE director of communication Jonas Loeb also noted that many workers are re-evaluating their standards after their extended periods of unemployment due to the pandemic.
"Folks have reported working conditions deteriorating and being aggravated. And these 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers that are under these contracts are really at a breaking point," Loeb told the AP.
The IATSE has represented film and TV crews for 128 years but has never gone on a nationwide strike before. It represents hair and makeup artists, carpenters, set designers, camera operators, cinematographers and many other professionals behind the scenes.
Some union members reportedly blame their worsening work conditions on the rise of giant streaming companies, who they say were given more slack on union rules when they were new to the industry. Rebecca Rhine, executive director of the IATSE Local 600 Cinematographers Guild, said that these exceptions have gone too far.
"We've continued to try and impress upon the employers the importance of our priorities, the fact that this is about human beings, and the working conditions are about dignity and health and safety at work," Rhine said. "The health and safety issues, the unsafe hours, the not breaking for meals, those were the exception for many years in the industry, which is a tough industry. But what they've become is the norm."
Union members voted to allow the president to authorize a strike on Oct. 4, winning by a large margin. The studios, streamers and other employees are represented in these negotiations by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which has not responded directly to Wednesday's announcement. However, it has said that its members value IATSE workers and are committed to avoiding a shutdown.