Your favorite television shows and movies just might take a bit longer to come out now, thanks to poor working conditions and treatment for production crews all over Hollywood. Almost all of the 60,000 union members working in television and film production were polled, with results showing almost unanimous support for a strike.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — better known by its acronym IATSE — is the labor union for technicians and crew members from all over the U.S. and Canada who work in film, television, theater, live shows and more. IATSE mostly encompasses anything having to do with entertainment production.
This is “the first time in IATSE’s 128-year history that members of the union have authorized a nationwide strike,” according to a publication on their website addressing the strike. But in order to understand exactly what the issue is, it’s important to first know who it’s affecting.
What is IATSE?
IATSE actually has an even longer name — International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada — and as of 2020 is representative of over 150,000 members across the two nations. However, IATSE’s roots are in technical theater; specifically, Broadway.
The above video details the colorful history of the union, and was posted on the YouTube channel of IATSE Local 33. Local 33 is one of IATSE’s 366 local unions, which are divided up based on craft and location. For example, the local that anyone working in entertainment production in State College might join is Local 636, and it includes any specialty. However, Local 33 is based in and around Los Angeles, and because it covers a larger and more populous area, it is specifically for stagehands.
Who is striking?
The center of the strike is actually based in Hollywood, after negotiations between IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (or the AMPTP) over the Hollywood Basic Agreement did not go as hoped. IATSE’s demands for “basic human necessities” were ignored, and union members are now refusing to agree to a contract that “leaves [them] with an unsustainable outcome.”
13 unions on the West Coast — along with another 23 throughout the rest of the country — voted, and according to IATSE’s website, 90% of the union members eligible to vote (working in television and film production) cast their ballots, with more than 98% of them being in support of the strike. Now, IATSE is making headlines and trending on Twitter, and many people (including quite the list of celebrities) are showing their support.
Why are they striking?
The issues listed on the petition are as follows:
- Excessively unsafe and harmful working hours.
- Unlivable wages for the lowest paid crafts.
- Consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends.
- Workers on certain “new media” streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.
Though not explicitly stated, the last bullet addresses the fact that many of these problems were brought to light by those working on productions for streaming services. Before its surge in popularity, streaming services would typically get the movies with lower budgets, while the more expensive blockbusters were sent to theaters. However, streaming services are now more popular than ever, but the hours and wages of their crew members are not reflecting that.
Additionally, many of these union members worked throughout the pandemic, with the petition referencing the health risks they undertook just for the sake of the industry. They explained that the combination of the pandemic and the popularity of streaming services has “elevated and aggravated working conditions,” bringing them to a “breaking point.”