By Michael Yu, Oct. 19, 2021

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, reached a tentative deal with producers on a new film and television contract on Oct. 16, hours before the union was set to go on a nationwide strike.

According to early reports, the new deal includes many of the union’s demands including higher wages and improved working conditions for those working on streaming productions. Cal Poly Pomona community members involved in the film and theatre industry expressed their thoughts on workers’ conditions in the industry and the strike which would have led to its total shutdown.

Linda Bisesti, a professional actress and professor and head of acting in the Department of Theatre and New Dance, discussed the necessity of crew members taking action to improve working conditions.

“There have been so many things that we have suffered through and lost due to COVID that nobody wants to see the industry close down once again,” said Bisesti. “However, it is necessary because when people are on set and work long hours, it can be exhausting. People need to be taken care of because it can be very dangerous.”

With this strike, IATSE has negotiated for a new three-year contract which will provide film and TV employees retroactive wage increases of 3% annually, longer turnaround times between shifts and higher pay for work on nonbroadcast shows, such as streaming programs. In their formal statement to the studios, IATSE called these demands a fight for worker dignity and basic human necessities.

Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

Rosanne Welch, a lecturer in the Interdisciplinary General Education Department and member of the Writer’s Guild, shared her thoughts on a new deal being reached.

“It shows that the producers knew they couldn’t afford another long period of downtime after the pandemic and they knew the IATSE members were willing to strike,” said Welch. “IATSE gained its major requests such as more health and pension funding, higher wages and longer turnaround time between shooting days.”

This is the first time in IATSE’S 128-year history a strike has been authorized. The strike was authorized with about 98.7% approval and 89.7% turnout from voters.

Liam Johnson, an editor and IATSE member, shared this historic movement is driven by people being more willing to see the problems in the industry and putting their foot down to fix those issues.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restricting access to theaters, streaming has become a much more lucrative option for major film studios. However, while this shift to streaming benefited the studios, the set workers faced lower wages and longer hours. Welch shared that the overwhelming success of streaming services should allow the studios to provide better conditions to its workers.

“The major studios are claiming that streaming is a new business and that they are unsure of how it will work,” said Welch. “However, it’s easy to see how much money services like Disney Plus, Netflix and Paramount Plus make from subscriptions. They are in the position to give people a raise and, more importantly, give people better hours and more time to film the movies and shows.”

Currently, film set workers are paid below a living wage while working in expensive cities and working long hours, according to IATSE’s formal letter sent to producers. IATSE is fighting for an increase in wages to help the workers be able to support themselves.

“One of the art guilds is being paid minimum wage and it is their negotiated right to fight for better wages,” said Johnson. “They need to be able to support themselves and work in places like Los Angeles, and you can’t do either of those on minimum wage.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.3 hours a day while workers on film sets can work double those hours daily.

“If a union has issues, people need to listen,” said Matthew Reidy, an actor and member of the Screen Actors Guild. “I have seen it on daily basis, and I know how hard they work and the long hours they work. Some crew members have to work 15-16 hours a day and then come back and do it all again the next day.”

While the strike was averted with a tentative deal, the final contract now must be approved by union members.

“These are rights that we have been fighting for many years now,” said Johnson. “This year we put our foot down and have a lot more support.”

To learn more about IATSE and its members’ fight for better conditions, campus community members can visit the IATSE website.

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