The union represents more than 60,000 set builders, costume designers, video engineers and other behind-the-scenes workers. Management officials say they will continue negotiating in hopes of heading off a strike.
The potential work stoppage reflects a hardening stance increasingly being employed by unions across industries. Kellogg’s cereal factory workers are on strike in five states to protest a two-tiered wage and benefits system for lower-level employees. Nurses and health workers in California and Oregon are preparing a walkout against Kaiser Permanente over a similar proposal. Kaiser strike drives in Hawaii and Colorado are also gaining steam, union officials say.
Nabisco workers ended a weeks-long strike in September after winning annual pay increases and better shift structures. Union representatives had encouraged consumers to swear off Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers to strengthen workers’ bargaining position.
Labor leaders say the movement’s growing power stems from a tightening labor market and frustration over pandemic-era working conditions.
“Some are calling it ‘striketober.’ I call it ‘Exhibit A’ for why we need to rebalance the scales and put workers back in the center of our economy,” Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, said Wednesday at the National Press Club.
IATSE members voted nearly unanimously last week to authorize the strike. Union President Matthew D. Loeb said in a statement that the group is prepared to negotiate through the weekend to try to avoid a work stoppage, but the union remains far apart with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that employs and dispatches workers to sets throughout the country. Streaming giants such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max pay the alliance to produce shows or films, and the group contracts with individual IATSE crew members.
A strike would begin at 12:01 a.m., Pacific time Monday.
“Some progress is being made. It is modest and slow,” Loeb told The Washington Post on Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve announced our strike date and are still hopeful that there’s a deal in the works. But as time goes on, that hope wanes.”
“Their argument is the industry has always been tough,” he said of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. “They do have to change the way they do business: to avoid a strike, to have good morale and to have safe, healthy employees.”
“This will be one of the largest work stoppages that most of the country will take notice of,” Shuler said. “Film and television has been a baseline for most people [during the pandemic], and these are the people that actually make that content happen, so we will stand with them in solidarity. We will use the full breadth and power of the labor movement to make sure that these companies are feeling the pain.”
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it has offered a “generous comprehensive package,” including expanded rest periods, and nearly $400 million to address a pension and health plan deficit during the negotiations.
But the IATSE rejected that offer, and experts say the strike authorization vote gives it more leverage to negotiate a better deal. In 2007, when TV and movie writers staged a 14-week walkout, ratings tanked and networks responded by launching a slew of unsuccessful reality shows.
Alliance spokesman Jarryd Gonzales said the industry group was “committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working” and will continue negotiations.
“There are five days left to reach a deal, and the studios will continue to negotiate in good faith in an effort to reach an agreement for a new contract that will keep the industry working,” he said.