Hollywood Union IATSE Ratifies Contract Backed by Studios and Big Tech, But Not By Popular Vote

Harri Weber

Harri is dot.LA's senior finance reporter. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Fast Company, VentureBeat and Flipboard. Find her on Twitter and send tips on L.A. startups and venture capital to harrison@dot.la.

Hollywood Union IATSE Ratifies Contract Backed by Studios and Big Tech, But Not By Popular Vote
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The union that represents behind-the-scenes workers in Hollywood narrowly ratified a new three-year deal with major studio owners on Monday, even though it lost by popular vote. The deal comes just a month after talks nearly erupted into the biggest strike the industry has seen since World War II.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees' new contract boosts wages for some of Hollywood's lowest-paid workers, mandates longer weekend rest periods, and extends a controversial agreement that established lower payouts for certain "new media" streaming productions, such as shows created for services like Apple TV Plus. But the contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and newer players from Netflix to Amazon, narrowed the pay gap between streaming productions and traditional Hollywood films and shows. The two-tiered approach has rankled many in the industry who argue that streaming has become a mainstream model that doesn't deserve discounted rates.

The contract was ratified by a 256 to 188 vote of delegates, the union announced on Monday. But 50.4% of members that represent the popular vote rejected the deal. As in U.S. politics, the popular vote does not directly determine the end results. The vote is sure to put a spotlight on the union's electoral rules, which assign delegates to locals by membership size.

IATSE members also ratified a new Area Standards Agreement, which sets similar guidelines for smaller production hubs, such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. That agreement did gain popular support among members, with 52% of eligible workers voting "yes."

"From start to finish, from preparation to ratification, this has been a democratic process to win the very best contracts," said IATSE International President Matthew Loeb. "The vigorous debate, high turnout, and close election, indicates we have an unprecedented movement-building opportunity," he added.

At stake was IATSE members' basic contract — a 49-page deal establishing minimum pay, meal breaks and funding for workers' pension and health care plans. It also sets safety standards for the industry, which is known for grueling hours and even on-set deaths.

The deal negotiated between IATSE and AMPTP also included larger financial contributions to IATSE workers' retirement and health plans, and it laid out new diversity and inclusion initiatives. Still, many IATSE members have said the deal doesn't go far enough in raising minimum rates. Some crew members will still face 14-hour workdays without much rest under the contract.

In addition to Apple, Netflix, Disney and Amazon, AMPTP's lawyers represent AT&T, Comcast and Viacom, tech and media conglomerates that control several studios including WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal and Paramount respectively. While the trade group also includes smaller industry players, the combined market cap of these seven companies alone tops $5 trillion today.

Voting stretched from Friday morning through midnight Sunday, as executives at the IATSE urged camera technicians, editors, set builders, makeup artists and other members to endorse a deal with AMPTP. Ultimately, 72% of eligible members cast their ballots over the weekend, a decline in participation compared to the union's October strike authorization vote.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated throughout.

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Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

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