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IATSE May Need to Strike While the Iron is Hot

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[Editor's note: The IATSE and AMPTP came to an agreement in early October, and the IATSE never went on strike. Reactions from IATSE members were decidedly mixed.]

This weekend, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) will vote on whether to authorize a strike against the production companies and studios that make most of the content we're all bingeing on. Whatever the result of that vote, it's clear that things are changing in Hollywood. [Update: The union authorized a strike almost unanimously. That doesn't mean they will strike, but they are now in a much stronger bargaining position.]

It's a classic struggle between capital and labor. Spurred on in part by the pandemic, Hollywood has adapted to changing consumer demands when it comes to things like day-and-date streaming service releases. But it has yet to meaningfully address how it will fairly compensate everyone from actors like Scarlett Johannson (who's suing Disney for breach of contract over the premiere of Black Widow on the same day it opened in theaters) to the cinematographers, makeup artists, location managers, electricians, boom operators, and others who make up the crews on Hollywood films and television shows.

And for the crews, it's not only about compensation, as they've been literally working overtime to feed the content consumption beast. "We each have witnessed first-hand the physical and emotional suffering our members and their loved ones endure as a result of punishing and unrealistic schedules, and lack of rest or meal breaks," said IATSE president Matthew Loeb and the presidents of 13 Hollywood locals in a statement quoted in Deadline. "We have repeatedly seen the economic impact of inadequate rates for members who do not make a living wage, and the discounted ‘New Media' pay rates that subsidize mature and profitable streaming businesses."

Check out the Instagram account @ia_stories for dozens of anonymously shared stories of exactly how bad working conditions are on sets, and how those conditions impact crews—everything from falling asleep at the wheel due to exhaustion from working 17-hour days to utterly inadequate meal breaks. 

Many of the IATSE's 150,000 members have already canceled streaming subscriptions in protest the conditions they endure while working on all productions, as well as the low wages that streaming services with fewer than 20 million subscribers (though not the bigger ones like Netflix, Amazon Video, and HBO Max) are allowed to pay due to a contract provision added in 2009, before OTT services were mainstream. Those smaller streaming services also contribute less to union member's pensions and health care.

Negotiations between the IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) stalled when the AMPTP didn't respond to the IATSE's offer, according to Variety.

Studios and producers are reaping the rewards of the OTT revolution. It's about time everyone involved in creating our favorite shows and movies gets their fair share.o

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