Photo: A memorial for IATSE member Halyna Hutchins (Source: Local 600)
By Sarah Ahmed
In early October, workers with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) voted to authorize a strike with a 98% margin. The weekend prior to the deadline to strike on October 18, IATSE union officials announced a tentative contract with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP), sidelining the strike and the workers’ momentum.
Tribune spoke with an art department coordinator in IATSE about her thoughts on the strike’s delay and the tentative contract, which workers will begin voting on today. The worker also commented on the entirely preventable death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed by actor Alec Baldwin on the set of the movie Rust when he shot a prop gun loaded with live bullets.
The art department coordinator told Tribune that she was frustrated that IATSE negotiated a new contract given the strong support for the strike. “I am extremely supportive of unions in general, like just general politics, but all of us pay pesky amounts of money to be in these unions, and then we all threaten to go on strike and this is the best tool that we have to make working conditions better, and then that doesn’t even happen.”
The worker said that the contract lacks many of the key demands that film workers have, such as limiting work days to 12 hours and giving workers at least 12 hours of rest before they are required to be on set again. “I think that it [the 12-hour rest] would be great for a lot of people, but I found out that that was never actually on the table in the first place.”
Instead, the contract only requires that workers have at least 10 hours off between shifts, which means that a worker could be required to work six 14-hour shifts in a week, with only a day off before they start a 14-hour shift the following week. The contract does not require that production companies give workers breaks for meals, and instead allows for monetary penalties when workers aren’t given meal breaks. Many workers on social media have commented that these penalties are insufficient and that production companies will frequently choose to pay the penalty and force workers to work long hours without meals.
The worker is a member of Local 871, which includes some of the lowest-paid positions in IATSE. She was disappointed that her union did not fight for better wage improvements in the tentative contract.
“Our union told us we are not going to go lower than 30 dollars an hour for you guys. And then it went down to 24. They said we’re not gonna go any lower than 24 dollars an hour, and then the answer we got was $23.50. Which was just a little insulting. … You couldn’t push for that?” She said, “I know 50 cents in the long run is not that much, but it sends a message that we didn’t really have as much control as you would think with 75,000 workers threatening to go strike.”
IATSE members will begin voting on whether to ratify the tentative contract on Friday, and the voting results will be announced November 15.
Capitalist Film Owners’ Negligence Kills Workers
Only three days after union leaders delayed the strike on October 18, Hutchins was killed on set due to the producer’s negligence of workplace safety. Hutchins’ death is a workplace murder at the hands of the capitalist owners of movie productions, who create the conditions for these crimes against workers to occur.
The worker said that Hutchins’ death has strengthened the resolve of IATSE workers to fight for better conditions on set. “I think that it’s an absolute tragedy and it honestly happened at such a crucial time, because it pushed people in either direction of the vote.”
Only a few days prior to Hutchins’ death, the camera crew of Rust walked off set due to wage theft and dangerous working conditions. In an interview with the capitalist entertainment outlet Hollywood Reporter, a camera crew worker said that negligent gun discharges on October 16 were a major reason that he and his coworkers walked off, saying, “There was really poor weapons handling skills.” The same worker said that the armorer responsible for the gun misfire, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, seemed “incredibly overworked and inexperienced.”
The art department worker told Tribune, “It reflects extremely poorly for the case of the [Rust] producers because they were hiring cheaper labor instead of addressing the concerns of the crew on set. This was entirely preventable.”
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