by James Delhauer
During the recent Georgia runoff election, there was a day when I received twenty-two text messages from the campaigns asking for money. Before that, the midterm elections felt like constant shakedown for handouts. It was impossible to go an hour without getting a text message or phone call about some dire circumstance or cause that desperately needed help before the next funding deadline. The point is that we are all sick of the number of political campaigns and organizations asking us to donate money. Now let me tell you about the IATSE PAC (Political Action Committee), why it matters, and why you should donate your hard-earned money to it.
A PAC is an entity established for the purpose of supporting or opposing candidates and committees for elected office. They’re funded primarily through voluntary donations from a restricted class. In the case of the IATSE PAC, that restricted class is exclusively made up of the members of the IATSE, their immediate families, IATSE staff workers, IATSE retirees, and individuals on referral/overhire lists who are working full time under IATSE contracts with the intention of joining. No outside or third-party interests are permitted to make donations to the PAC. Not even the individual Locals can make donations, as they are organizations and therefore, not a part of the restricted class. That means that this fund is solely responsible to you and your fellow members, not a political organization or party. Historically, the PAC has been used to support policymakers who protect and expand collective bargaining rights, eliminate “right-to-work” laws, protect our pension and healthcare benefits, oppose all forms of discrimination, protect creative content, and preserve or expand funding for the arts.
But why is this necessary? In several recent surveys, a small number of Local 695 members have asked why our union involves itself in state and federal politics. “I joined a labor union, not a political organization,” is a statement that comes up often enough that we should address it directly.
Labor unions are under constant assault in this country. Before the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, worker strikes were often met with government-sanctioned force. There have always been those who have viewed living wages, safe conditions, and sustainable benefits as a detriment to their bottom line and there have always been those who have tried to do something about it. Your union’s primary function is to represent your interests at work. This is done in a variety of ways, such as negotiating wages, working conditions, and benefits in contracts; investigating and remedying grievances on the set; and working with a variety of partners to bring you continuing education and skills training programs. But what we win at the bargaining table can be lost at the ballot box if we don’t have a voice at the table and, as much as we all hate to admit it, money talks. The IATSE PAC represents our interests in Washington. By using its resources to build relationships in Congress, the IATSE is able to lobby for pro-worker, pro-artist, and pro-motion picture legislation for its members.
For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the original draft of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act did not include provisions providing unemployment protection for displaced freelancers. The IATSE PAC directed its resources to addressing this issue, resulting in three major provisions for freelance workers. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program provided unemployment benefits to independent contractors, gig workers, and those who were self-employed; the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program extended eligibility for unemployment up to an additional thirteen weeks; and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program provided an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits. Altogether, these provisions of the CARES Act ensured that IA members and their families would be taken care of during the government-mandated lockdown period. These victories would not have been possible without the support of the IATSE and its PAC. And this is to say nothing of other PAC victories, such as expansion of the National Endowment for the Arts, job-creating legislation like the Save Our Stages bill, and benefit securing laws like the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act and the Cadillac Tax Repeal. In 2022, it supported dozens of pro-worker candidates who have now been elected to Congress, it continued to expand funding for the arts, and it successfully lobbied for a $25 million funding increase to the National Labor Relation’s Board.
In spite of these victories, IATSE PAC participation remains low. On average, only three percent of eligible IATSE members contribute to the PAC. During the 2020 election cycle, we raised just $554,301 from 4,019 contributors. This small amount allowed our union’s political department to move mountains, but there is so much more that needs to be done. If just twenty percent of the IATSE’s members donated $5 a month, the $3 million we could raise for the 2024 elections could drive the IATSE’s federal issue agenda forward, helping to secure and expand both collective bargaining and voting rights nationwide, create tax fairness work for creative professionals, combat discrimination within the arts and entertainment industries, establish a national paid family and medical leave program, defend pension and benefit funds to ensure retirement stability, and to build a healthcare system that is affordable and accessible to all.
Recurring donors receive a quarterly newsletter outlining PAC expenditures and current political updates from the union so that you can remain in the loop as to how your money is being spent. If you pledge to donate at the $10, $20, or $40 a month funding levels, you’ll receive a membership pin. Personally, I like the $20 a month Leader’s Club Pin. I don’t know why they didn’t make it the most expensive one. Feels like they’re giving away the best one at a discount. However, to stress the importance of this issue and to show that I am not asking anyone to do what I am not willing to do, I will be upping my monthly contribution to $40 per month to coincide with the publishing of this article. So I encourage anyone who has made it this far (thank you if you have) to donate what you can. If you’d like more info on how to donate, please visit www.IATSEPAC.net.
That said, we live in hard times and not everybody can afford to contribute. Food is expensive, gas numbers this year gave new meaning to the expression “a run for your money,” and we all have obligations that keep us working instead of retiring to a sandy beach somewhere. But there is something even more valuable than money and that is time. So if you don’t have the money to donate to the PAC, consider donating your time to the new Local 695 Political Affairs Committee.
This newly formed member volunteer committee will take on the challenge of representing the political interests of our membership on a local level and give members the opportunity to help guide the direction of 695 as we enter the 2024 election cycle. What we can’t win at the bargaining table can be won at the ballot box. So help build a Local 695 political agenda with your interests at heart. Grassroots movements often begin with small groups of people coming together to talk and discuss issues that matter to them. So let’s start the conversation and see what comes of it. Who knows what the world’s greatest sound and video artists can do if we really put our minds to it?
Any Local 695 members interested in learning more about the Political Affairs Committee should email the office at firstname.lastname@example.org and should keep an eye out for any Local 695 announcement emails.
PS As I was writing this article, I received four political donation request text messages. I am so sick of people asking for money. Please give to the IATSE PAC.