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An IATSE organizer rallies workers.

Mike Miller, vice president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) speaks to members at a rally on Sept. 26, 2021. (Photo: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

'Milestone Moment' for Labor as 98% of Major TV-Film Union Votes to Strike

"Exactly the kind of mass-movement organizing we need right now," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the move by IATSE members.

Julia Conley

Close to 100% of the 60,000-member film and television production employees union voted Monday to approve a strike in the coming days if studios don't agree to a fair deal for the lowest-paid workers who make movies and television shows possible.

"Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend."
—Matthew Loeb, IATSE

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced that with nearly nine in 10 members taking part in the vote, 98.68% of workers approved a strike authorization amid negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents hundreds of TV and film production companies.

"Ninety percent turnout with 98% voting yes is an incredible accomplishment," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). "It's exactly the kind of mass-movement organizing we need right now."

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich called the vote "a milestone moment for the labor movement."

IATSE and AMPTP have been working for months to reach a deal regarding two contracts for production crew members, who face "excessively unsafe and harmful working hours, unlivable wages for the lowest paid crafts," and insufficient rest time for meals, between work days, and on weekends, according to IATSE.

The overwhelming response by workers in the bargaining unit's first-ever nationwide strike authorization vote sent a "clear decisive message" to studio heads, IATSE President Matthew Loeb said Monday.

"The members have spoken loud and clear," Loeb said. "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."

In recent days as IATSE leaders called on members to vote in favor of the strike, numerous lawmakers and labor rights advocates expressed support for the union.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) were among more than 100 lawmakers who wrote to the AMPTP last Friday, the first day of voting on the strike authorization, to demand that the company leaders "negotiate collaboratively with these workers to reach a fair contract and address the basic human needs that will allow them to do their jobs safely and with dignity."

"The key issues in this negotiation, as we’ve come to understand them, are about worker dignity and basic human necessities," they wrote. "We are unified in our belief in the importance of living wages, sustainable benefits, and reasonable rest periods between shifts and during the workday."

More than 30 New York state legislators also penned a letter last week detailing stories they have heard from their constituents who work in the TV and film industry and expressing support for a fair contract.

One production employee who worked a typical week involving 12-hour workdays—often without meal breaks—and 10 hour off in between "fell asleep at the wheel while on their way home, totaling their vehicle, while miraculously walking away unharmed," wrote the New York lawmakers. "Other workers have not been as fortunate, yet these stories are all too typical and illustrate exactly the problem with the current production schedule.”

The letter decried the grueling hours as “outrageous and harmful to the health and safety" and noted that AMPTP's "unwillingness to reasonably or responsibly respond to these and other important issues" has pushed the film and TV industry towards what would be a major disruption, should the union's first nationwide strike take place in the coming days.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, applauded IATSE's show of "powerful solidarity."

Loeb made clear that with the votes tallied, members have made clear to studios that "the ball is in their court."

"If they want to avoid a strike," he said, "they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer."

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