IATSE Members Vote To Authorize Strike — Here's What That Means For The Film Industry

UPDATE: IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) will reenter negotiations on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, following the union's historic vote in favor of strike authorization. This will be the first time in two months both groups have agreed to collective bargaining. AMPTP representatives had this to say about the history-making vote: 

"[The AMPTP] remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working. We deeply value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. A deal can be made at the bargaining table, but it will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues."

If you've been on entertainment Twitter in the last couple of weeks, you've likely seen posts about the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) members — the union of film and television workers who aren't the directors, actors, or writers — asking production companies for fairer working conditions.

The conditions IATSE is asking for include things like not working 12+ hours a day, getting a cost-of-living pay increase, and changing the "New Media" deal that was struck with streaming platforms. Negotiations with the streaming platforms have been at a standstill, and today IATSE members voted to approve a strike authorization, which gives the union's president the right to tell IATSE members to stop working on all related film and television productions across the country.

What's Next? Back to the Negotiating Table

According to Variety, 90% of all IATSE members voted, and of those who did, 98% were in support of the strike authorization.

"The members have spoken loud and clear," Matthew D. Loeb, the international president, said in a statement to Variety. "This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry. Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage."

/Film has a more detailed round-up of this issue here, but the short version is that a 2009 deal between IATSE and streamers let the streaming platforms pay less than old school studios into IATSE members' healthcare and pension funds. As this year's Emmys made clear, streaming platforms are no longer an underdog in the entertainment industry, and IATSE wanted the deal to reflect that. Negotiations have been ongoing since May, and this strike was a result of those discussions leading nowhere.

It's important to note that IATSE only voted to say they could go on strike. They have yet to officially do so. The vote, however, gives the union a significant bargaining chip in future negotiations. Whether the threat of strike is enough, however, remains to be seen.

"I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members," Loeb said. "The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer."

IATSE Local 44 member Joe Martinez says that "No one's gung-ho about a strike. We're more interested in having certain things become fair."

If the IATSE leaders do, in fact, authorize a nationwide strike, it would be the first of its kind in the history of the union that spans 128 years.