by James Delhauer
It has never been in the interest of employers to let workers organize. Even today, companies often do everything they can to discourage workers from forming or joining a labor union. It is not out of the norm to see them refuse to voluntarily recognize a unionization effort, and instead be forced to recognize a union by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The NLRB was founded on July 5, 1935, after the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, which federally recognized the rights of workers to band together for the purpose of collective bargaining. Before 1935, it was very dangerous to take a stand against employers. In fact, the earliest members of the labor movement weren’t just facing down their angry employers, but were being subdued by government forces. When the Homestead Strike of 1892 broke into violence, Pennsylvania state militia forces were deployed against the striking steelworkers. The Pullman Strike of 1894 saw twenty thousand federal troops dispatched to put an end to the strike in Chicago. And in 1903, the Colorado National Guard was deployed against the Western Federation of Miners to end their strike during the Colorado Labor Wars. Despite the dangers, working men and women fought and died in solidarity with other workers because they knew a better life was possible for them and their families. A life with days off, safe work environments, and living wages. Their grit and determination led to the passage of the National Labor Relations Act. The gains won by the early labor movement continue to be felt to this day, but the fight for fair wages and conditions is far from over, as it faces a continually changing employment landscape.
Today, the IATSE represents filmmakers, artists, and craftspeople working for some of the largest multi-national corporations around. Old studios like the Walt Disney Corporation, Warner Bros., and Universal have been joined by the likes of trillion-dollar companies like Amazon and Apple. Altogether, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) represents almost three trillion dollars in corporate interests. Negotiating equitable contracts with such powerful forces is a lopsided affair to say the least. We cannot outspend them. However, that is not to say that we are powerless to continue to improve working conditions. As a union, our greatest strength lies in our core value: Solidarity.
But what is Solidarity? For as much as we casually use the word, there seems to be confusion about exactly what it entails. Does Solidarity mean paying your union dues and going to work? That’s part of it to be sure. But if that is where participation within the union ends, our outcomes will never meet our needs or expectations. Here are three simple ways you can build Solidarity and make your union stronger.
Report Your Jobs
At the bottom of nearly every Local 695 announcement email that the office sends out, there is a link to a form labeled, “Report Your Jobs,” which serves several important functions.
Our members are our union’s eyes and ears in the field. Our office staff cannot be everywhere at once and cannot know everything that is happening on all of the shooting sets in Hollywood. And as you might imagine, the production companies aren’t always forthcoming when it comes to sending us this information. But with your help, we have the ability to watch every production in town. When a member calls to report a grievance or dangerous working conditions on the set, the 695 Reps can be more reactive and resolve issues more quickly if they already have the information you submit on the Report Your Job form. In cases where a job is near the end of its run, having this information ahead of time can mean the difference between whether or not your Representatives have enough time to intervene and address the issue or not. In the case of union productions, the information in the job reports is critical to enforcing our contracts.
This job information is just as important, if not more so, when it comes to non-union productions. It may seem counterintuitive to report non-union productions to your union, but the IATSE takes great interest in what is happening in the non-union world. Many union signatory companies will use a series of LLC’s or subcontracted production companies in order to dodge their responsibilities to our members and launch productions without union representation. These non-union productions undercut the terms and conditions that producers agree to when they sign our contracts and gives them access to skilled craftspeople working for less than the conditions we negotiate. It’s understood that sometimes we take non-union work when there is no alternative. But by making the office and the IATSE aware of non-union productions being crewed by union members, it presents an opportunity to flip these productions so that you, your family, and your colleagues will receive improved wages and working conditions, as well as the benefit hours to fund your healthcare, pension, and continuing education programs. Reporting non-union work and helping us to flip non-union productions is to everyone’s benefit.
Article X in the Local 695 Constitution & Bylaws (www.local695.com/constitution-bylaws/#blart10) outlines the members’ responsibility to report ALL jobs to the Local. Whether the work is IA or non-IA, a long-running production or just a day-call, live-broadcast, commercial or music video, reality or sports… Please report your jobs to the Local!
Submit Your Working Conditions Report
At the bottom of almost every Local 695 announcement, there is a link to the Working Conditions Report directly beside the Report Your Jobs form. This is where members can report issues they face on the set, including meal break abuses, long and excessive hours, turnaround violations, harassment, discrimination, and other unacceptable behaviors. The Working Conditions form helps to address these problems in two ways. The first is to keep the office continually informed about the challenges our members contend with at work, regardless of whether or not they are prohibited by contract. Just because an issue is not acknowledged or prohibited by a working contract does not mean that it is not an issue that needs to be addressed. And if it is one that is occurring regularly and affecting a sizable portion of our members, it is worth trying to regulate during our next cycle of contract negotiations. To do this, your Representatives need citable examples, with details and dates. This means that ongoing problems that you experience should be reported early and repeatedly. Did a problem you reported on your last production happen again on your next one? Report it again! Each case study provides more weight when our Reps argue for a resolution, whether that be in a grievance, in an arbitration hearing, or in contract negotiations. So members are encouraged to fill out the Working Conditions form whenever they encounter a problem on set. Remember, if you’re facing a problem at work, you probably aren’t the only one.
But secondly, the Working Conditions form is designed to assess the effectiveness of the conditions outlined in any given contract. Have excessive meal penalties diminished since the contract was ratified last year, or is this an issue we need to revisit in 2024? Entire days without meals? Fraturdays? We know that the producers try to subtly (or unsubtly) sidestep the contracts they’ve signed. Plenty of addressed problems are still happening on set. But when these issues are brought up during negotiations, we present a stronger argument when we can back them up with facts and figures. Detailed reports that outline what productions and companies are harming our members or violating their contracts give the IATSE the tools to act.
Please remember that when these problems are not reported to the office, it only serves to perpetuate the ongoing cycle of abuse.
Report All Contract Violations
In preparation for this article, I asked all the Local 695 Representatives what part of their job occupies the majority of their time. Every one of them said the same thing: “Contract Violations.” Contract violations are, quite possibly, the most important day-to-day duty performed in the office. Violations such as wage discrepancies, penalties, jurisdictional disputes, and wrongful hires are just some of the most prominent problems that we work on in the office. But like abusive working conditions, many contract violations go unreported. If the office doesn’t know it happened, it can’t be fixed. If it’s not fixed, violations persist and our contracts are diminished. But you can help change that.
One notable issue is the hiring (or mis-hiring) of personnel. On the sound side of things, Local 695 has the sole jurisdiction over on-set communication systems, such as Comteks and set-wide PL systems. Similarly, our video members are contractually responsible for off-camera recording, video playback, and projection. However, too often we find that members of other locals are being hired to perform these duties. Our members who have lost jobs as a result of violations like this are voiceless, as they cannot report on jobs they don’t even realize they were passed over for. This is why it is critical that 695 sound members step in to support our video members and vice versa. Have you seen members of other guilds performing video playback work? Is a DIT playing back video files for a director or script supervisor or even recording takes using a device on their carts? Or is someone from camera setting up communication systems between departments? This is absolutely not allowed. Our members should be the ones performing our work. So if you see something, please say something.
Every week, problems on the set are being resolved when members bring them to the Local. But still, some members are hesitant to report contract violations and poor conditions for fear of reprisal from their employers. The office is very aware of these concerns and is adept at working with you and the company to prevent unwanted outcomes. And state and federal laws protect you too. When you report information to the Local, we will work with you, and together we’ll map out a strategy to resolve the reported problem. Your help can mean the difference between you or another member qualifying for health insurance or making rent payments. It can be the difference between putting food on the table or going into debt. By reporting our jobs, our working conditions, and contract violations we observe, we keep Solidarity strong within our Local and stand together with our union Brothers, Sisters, and Kin. These steps can go a long way toward helping us change the culture of Hollywood. There is always work ahead of us. We have a lot to do. And with your help, we can do it.
Report Your Jobs
Report Working Conditions