To the average viewer, it might come as a surprise to find out that an hour of television or the latest two-and-a-half-hour blockbuster took hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of working hours to produce.
All that time spent making it, only to be consumed in a short sitting. For the uninitiated, there’s no way to understand all the various facets of our crafts that go into making such a short piece of artistic content.
Much the same is true of how our union functions. While our members are hard at work on set (or marching the picket lines as was the case last year), your representatives are hard at work managing the day-to-day tasks of running a union and preparing for bargaining on your behalf. So today, I thought I might shed a little light on what your union has been doing to prepare for the 2024 Basic Agreement & Videotape Supplemental Agreement Negotiations with the AMPTP.
Following unprecedented member participation in the 2021 Contract Negotiations, this year’s bargaining platform began development in early 2022. Knowing what we achieved in 2021 and what gains we still needed to achieve, we began compiling case precedent for proposals we knew or suspected would be priorities for the membership. This involved tracking economic trends over the lifetime of the contract and documenting safety concerns or incidents reported by members. We also began soliciting feedback on whether or not the new provisions from 2021 were effective in combating the issues they were intended to address. For example, almost every Local 695 email sent out in the last two years has included links to Job Report and Working Condition Report forms that our members can use to keep us appraised of changes or issues that arise on set.
From there, we launched our 2022 Membership Survey. This survey covered a wide variety of issues reported by members over the previous year and allowed members to rank issues in terms of importance and offer free response answers surrounding issues that the office may not have known about already. This information was used to assist in further research and helped us shape an outline of what our 2024 bargaining platform might look like.
The most commonly reported issues were those involving encroachment into our work jurisdiction by members of other locals or non-union workers, which we have been pleased to mostly resolve without needing to wait for the 2024 contract. 2022 and 2023 both saw jurisdictional clarifications from the IATSE that have helped put Local 695 members back to work when productions had been calling upon others to do their jobs.
In 2023, we continued to follow up on the data we’d gathered in 2022 by engaging with industry experts to help come up with solutions to the problems commonly reported by our members. This included the newly emerging field of artificial intelligence, with more and more members raising concerns about automation and job elimination on the set.
Of course, the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strikes came with their fair share of work for the union as well. As members found themselves out of work, it became our job to ensure that healthcare benefits were disrupted as little as possible. As a member of the Motion Picture Industry Health & Pension Plan Board, I personally worked with other representatives from the IA and the employers to secure No-Cost COBRA benefits for our members who were in danger of losing coverage. Our members had not been the ones to initiate a strike. Why should they have lost health coverage for it? In a year when tens of thousands of workers found themselves at home for months on end, less than 3% of participants covered by MPI fell out of the plan.
The strikes did not halt our negotiations preparation though. In fact, the swell of success within the labor movement as a whole allowed us to develop new strategies and proposals. Additionally, the gains achieved by the writers and actors have created new possibilities for our own union. Following the launch of the IATSE Census and IATSE Survey, our Local began directly engaging our membership through a series of town halls, general issue-based surveys, classification-based surveys, and one-on-one conversations. Our bargaining committees were formed and have been among the most active groups in 695’s 94-year history. We’ve received more member-penned proposals in the last year than we have since I became Business Agent in 2015.
Now our proposals have been submitted to the IATSE, where they have been combined with proposals from our sister Locals here in Hollywood. The IATSE formed seven bargaining subcommittees that are in the process of reviewing the various proposals. I’m pleased to report that our Locals are very well represented on these committees, with seats on the Wages & Economics, Communications, Logistics, Working Conditions, and New Media committees. Moreover, I have been tasked with chairing this year’s Benefits Committee, while President Jillian Arnold was assigned to chair the first-ever Artificial Intelligence Subcommittee. This means that our Local has a presence on all seven committees. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to narrow down our proposals until we’ve developed a comprehensive, progressive, and achievable bargaining platform that will best serve our members. We’ve been attentive to the feedback we’ve received in the last two years and have carefully considered every single proposal our members have submitted (no matter how profanely written they may have been in surveys or on social media).
In March, negotiations with the AMPTP will begin. At this time, none of us know what will happen, but I firmly believe that the IATSE has never been more prepared. We are resolute in our belief that our members deserve better and that in the ever-evolving technological landscape, a fair and equitable deal can be achieved. When negotiations begin, we will do everything in our power to be as open and transparent as possible. We will not be able to share everything with you, as some strategies will require secrecy so as not to tip our hand toward the employers. But know that your Executive Board, your bargaining committees, the Local 695 office staff, and I have worked tirelessly so that we can go in and do the job you sent us in to do. We are ready.