Hollywood workers vote to authorize a strike to improve conditions on set
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Sixty thousand members of a union representing behind-the-scenes film and TV workers voted overwhelmingly this week to authorize a strike for the first time in the union’s more than 100-year history.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is negotiating with studios and streaming services over wages and working conditions — and if they can’t come to an agreement, it could shut down production nationwide.
It would be the first major walkout in the industry since World War II. So what brought things to such a breaking point?
Production schedules in entertainment are generally pretty grueling for everyone, but particularly for the craftspeople and technicians who make up the IATSE union. They do the often unseen work, said University of Southern California cinema professor Jason Squire.
“Their hours can be flexible, their days can be flexible. If a movie is behind … it’s a bit of a juggle,” he said.
That can include 12- to 14-hour days, overnight shoots, Fridays that bleed into the weekend — or what they call “Fraturdays.”
“We go home and we sleep from, like, I don’t know, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or whatever on our Saturday. But then on Monday, we’re back at like a 5 a.m. call,” said Elizabeth, a script supervisor. We’re using her middle name because she was concerned about retaliation.
We caught her as she ducked into the bathroom between set changes, which she said is a pretty rare luxury.
“They’ll be like, ‘We need you on set, they want to change a line,’ or something. And I’ve had to yell out from the bathroom because I literally can’t leave for, like, two minutes to pee,” she said.
The pandemic intensified these demands, according to Marisa Shipley, an art department coordinator and vice president of IATSE Local 871.
“In the shutdown, everyone turned to the arts and turned to all of this content that we help produce,” Shipley said.
Schedules have become even more frenzied, she said, as studios struggle to meet the surge in demand and make up for months of shutdowns — shutdowns she said gave production staff a rare moment to breathe.
“The extended period of rest last year changed people’s perspective,” Shipley said.
Members are resisting the choice between having a healthy life and their jobs, she added.
Correction: (Oct. 5, 2021): An earlier headline incorrectly characterized the IATSE vote. Union members voted to authorize a strike.
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