NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The union representing the majority of film workers across the country including hundreds in New Mexico may take the first steps towards a potentially historic strike this weekend. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) has been in negotiations with entertainment producers over working conditions, wages, and work hours, however, neither side has been able to come to an agreement.
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IATSE represents “below the line workers” on a film set – those who don’t fall under the categories of actors, directors, writers, or producers. They’ve been negotiating for months to update their contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP,) which represents major production companies like Walt Disney, Paramount, Universal, Sony and more.
In late September, IATSE announced negotiations had stalled and it would be taking steps towards authorizing a strike. If at least 75% of union members vote for authorization, a strike wouldn’t necessarily happen immediately. Union representatives could first go back to negotiate with the AMPTP, using evidence of the vote. If they feel their proposals are still not being met, union leadership would then have the power to enact a strike.
The AMPTP has made few public statements about the situation. In a tweet posted Friday, IATSE said it had not heard from the organization in 11 days. The press release section of AMPTP’s website hasn’t been updated since 2017. AMPTP does not have a representative available for contact in New Mexico.
Liz Pecos, the president of the New Mexico IATSE Local 480 chapter, said the situation is directly affecting entertainment productions in New Mexico. “All of these companies that you’re used to seeing productions in the theaters, television, streaming content, they have refused to meet our basic needs. They’ve refused to acknowledge what we’re asking for, very reasonable proposals,” Pecos said.
Ryan Halsey is the co-owner of Serious Grippage and Light Co. and has 15-years of experience working in the New Mexico film industry. He believes the issues many film workers are now facing stem from work-culture cultivated as far back as World War I.
“By in large, a lot of people that work in film, it’s seen as you having to be ‘tough as nails,’ you have to be extremely hardworking, you don’t complain. You have to be the good soldier,” Halsey said. “But it is a business, and it is a professional industry. Unlike most professional industries, ours isn’t held to a lot of the same standards that others are.”
Halsey likened the intensive and repetitive work hours to what workers experience in industries like healthcare and the military. He says when demands are asked of workers, there is very little pushback. “Most of IATSE crafts are very blue-collar. We make less than mechanics, but we love what we do and that’s where we see the big change being fought. We’re tired of being exploited for loving what we do,” Halsey said.
He believes the push for change comes in part from social media, where workers are more often sharing stories about challenging work environments. Halsey points to an Instagram account called “IA Stories,” where union workers from around the country often post about negative experiences on set.
“There’s been a culture created over many many decades that this is just how it is, and if you don’t like it, go get a nine to five (job) behind a desk,” Halsey said. “The reality is record amounts of profit being made and a lot of promises were made a decade ago when streaming was very virgin and just starting and they didn’t know. The studios and a lot of the people behind it haven’t really been held accountable.”
Halsey said the movement isn’t about the money, but rather basic human rights. He said consistent, dangerous working conditions have been normalized on sets. Halsey said those conditions include working more than 12 hours every day and getting minimal sleep and rest periods. Halsey said as a result, falling asleep behind the wheel has become a more common problem amongst crew members
He believes the solution is in part shorter work days spanning eight to ten hours, and shorter work weeks that would include having weekends off. Halsey said it would be slightly more expensive for the overall production, but a small price to pay for keeping workers happy and healthy. “We’re just seen as day laborers. Even though the skillset we bring, you’re not going to be able to find that anywhere else,” Halsey said.
IATSE members are expected to vote on the strike through Friday and Saturday. Pecos said this isn’t a call to action yet, but rather “another tool in the kit for negotiations.” Numerous organizations have voiced their support of IATSE including the Director’s Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, and over 100 members of Congress including Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. A number of New Mexico politicians have also stated their support of the film union, urging AMPTP to continue negotiations.
Results are expected to be announced on Monday, Oct. 4. Pecos said as far as next steps, it’s unclear what will happen. If a strike does occur, it will cause a major disruption within the industry. The New Mexico Film Office released a statement regarding the impending strike authorization:
“The film and television industry is a key sector of New Mexico’s economy injecting $624 million in direct spend and providing thousands of New Mexicans with jobs. We hope, if there is a strike, that an agreement between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) can be reached swiftly and the issues at hand are resolved in good faith so that this thriving industry benefiting so many New Mexicans and New Mexico communities can continue operating.”-New Mexico Film Office
“This is definitely a historic moment. This impacts approximately 60,000 motion picture and television workers, IATSE workers that work under these agreements. This is going to be listed as one of the most impactful strikes in American history if it gets to that point,” said Pecos.