IATSE, Teamsters & Hollywood Basic Crafts Begin Contract Talks With Studios: Here’s What To Expect

IATSE, Teamsters & Hollywood Basic Crafts Begin Contract Talks With Studios: Here’s What To Expect

From one “hot labor summer” to the next: Below-the-line workers will sit down with the Hollywood studios Monday to begin talks for new film and TV contracts.

All eyes, metaphorically speaking, are on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers‘ Sherman Oaks offices, as IATSE and the Hollywood Basic Crafts link arms to discuss pension and health plans — the first step in a lengthy negotiation process that likely will extend well into the summer.

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“Their fight is our fight. It’s really plain and simple,” IATSE International President Matthew Loeb told Deadline ahead of negotiations. “We’re on the same benefit plans. The [IATSE] kids and the Teamster and Basic Craft kids live on the same streets and play together and go to the same schools. We’re the same. We’re workers.”

Although Monday marks the official start of negotiations, sources tell Deadline that IATSE already had preliminary talks with the Carol Lombardini-led AMPTP last month.

In addition to IATSE and Teamsters Local 399, the other guilds participating in these joint negotiations are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 40 (IBEW), Laborers International Union of North America Local 724 (LiUNA!), United Association Plumbers Local 78 (UA) and Operating Plasterers & Cement Masons International Association (OPCMIA) Local 755.

RELATED: “They Should Fear Us”: Teamsters & IATSE Link Arms For March Contract Talks With Studios

All current contracts expire on July 31, and IATSE already has made it clear it is not interested in extending. This might seem like a long runway to reach an agreement, but the process is substantially more complicated than those that occurred last year with the WGA, DGA and SAG-AFTRA.

Here’s what to expect from the months-long collective bargaining process.

Setting the Stage

This is a particularly crucial set of negotiations, especially for IATSE, which came down to the wire on negotiating its contentious 2021 contract after multiple extensions — an unpopular move among rank-and-file members.

After a six-month bargaining process, that agreement ultimately was ratified, but union leadership suffered a harsh rebuke as L.A. locals rejected the deal by a razor-thin margin in the popular vote.

RELATED: “Your Solidarity Ignited Workers Around The World,” Guild Boss Fran Drescher Tells SAG Awards After Strikes & “Hot Labor Summer”

Although IATSE members did authorize a strike amid those talks, leadership decided not to walk away from the table, instead negotiating for another month before reaching a deal.

During the 2021 talks, IATSE’s 13 West Coast locals collectively opted out of individual bargaining in 2021 to help facilitate general negotiations. It has been six years since any of the local-specific needs have been addressed, so that will be a big priority this time around.

IATSE’s extensions also delayed the Teamsters’ negotiations, prompting the latter also to agree to several contract extensions before finally sitting down with the AMPTP in December, nearly six months after that contract had been set to expire. It took about a month for them to reach a deal.

Wages and job security are sure to be focal points of negotiations this time around, especially given the corrosive effects of inflation and cost-of-living increases. Below-the-line union members “have had a couple really hard years” between pandemic-related shutdowns and work stoppages due to last summer’s dual strikes, a union source told Deadline.

RELATED: DGA President Lesli Linka Glatter Expresses Support For IATSE & Teamsters; Warns About “Looming” AI Challenges

The 2021 agreement secured additional funding for the health and pension plans as well as a 3% minimum wage increase every year for the duration of the contract.

“It’s more important than ever to get them a deal, which is going to continue to build a good quality of life for folks and really protect our benefits … [to] ensure that people can make careers in this business and support families in this business,” the sourced added.

Negotiations Process

The guilds will begin with general negotiations for the basic agreement, which will encompass provisions regarding their shared Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans.

This marks the first time since 1988 that the basic crafts will jointly negotiate MPI benefits with IATSE.

In this phase of negotiations, one of the provisions the guilds will be pushing for is a streaming residual, presumably similar to those achieved by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA in their contracts. While below-the-line workers do not get residuals paid individually, the employers do pay the equivalent of a residual into the guilds’ benefit plans.

RELATED: IATSE Forewarns Strike Authorization Vote Ahead Of Negotiations: “Not Interested In Extending This Agreement”

The guilds will also be discussing ways to diversify the funding to the pension and health plans, which were significantly diminished last year while most of scripted production was shut down.

Once those general negotiations conclude, the other unions will step aside as each of IATSE’s 13 locals also will have the chance to bargain on the terms of their specific sections of the guild’s basic agreement during the next several weeks.

IATSE will then head back into general negotiations on other areas of its basic agreement, including meal breaks and rest periods. The guild made the decision to let the locals lead the charge since they didn’t bargain during the last cycle.

If there are any local-specific issues that aren’t resolved during this round of negotiations, Deadline understands those will be added to the list of priorities for general negotiations.

The union also will need to negotiate the videotape agreement, which also applies to each of the 13 locals, as well as the area standards agreement, which applies to a vast majority of the rest of the country.

RELATED: Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer Says He’s “Hopeful” For Productive IATSE Talks: “Nobody Really Wins In A Strike”

Also similar to last year’s contract negotiations, artificial intelligence is sure to be a hot topic throughout all negotiations. Loeb previously called this a “crucial issue” for his members, while Teamster’s Local 399 boss Lindsay Dougherty pointed out that guardrails around the use of autonomous vehicles will be key for hers.

Deadline hears that Local 399 doesn’t plan to head into local-specific contract talks until early June. The guild has yet to survey its members about priority issues, though they plan to do so this month.

Although there is a rough timeline, the unions at least are expected to discuss most general issues simultaneously. As Loeb put it to Deadline over the weekend, there’s “no world in which we make a deal on benefits and not wages or vice versa.”

Strike Climate

Neither Loeb or Dougherty has minced words when warning that their members are not afraid to strike, if necessary, but is Hollywood actually in for another summer of work stoppages?

No strike authorization votes have taken place this year yet, though Loeb told recently told Deadline it “is always possible.”

According to sources, Local 399 also is waiting a beat before assessing whether to call for a strike-authorization vote, rather than pre-emptively secure one like SAG-AFTRA did last year.

At Sunday’s union rally to kick off negotiations, Dougherty told the crowd that it’ll be up to the studios to decide whether there will be another strike this summer. As expected, she also warned that their “divide and conquer” tactics won’t work against their united front.

Speaking with Deadline, Dougherty added that she thinks “the studios did learn a lot of lessons from last year because simply saying no, it’s just not gonna cut it any longer.”

“Enough is enough already,” she said. “I do think they understand that, but I do recognize that they are a formidable opponent, and they are going to challenge us, and we’re going to have to push to get to a point where it’s the right contract for our members. … They’ll give us a fight, but I think they’re not going to take it to the degree that they did last year.”

It might seem like things are primed for another set of strikes, but sources indicate to Deadline that both sides are doing what they can to prevent that from happening.

Deadline hears that the AMPTP does not have a bottom-line number in mind and is willing to be flexible with the below-the-line unions on the cost of their demands.

As for the unions, a source said: “We’re not negotiating for a strike, we’re negotiating for a deal. But it has to be a deal that the members deserve and that the members are going to ratify, because ultimately, the power is in their hands.”

In that context and in the week leading up to the Oscars, IATSE, the Teamsters and the other Basic Crafts are set to meet daily with the AMPTP for talks. With the customary stating of positions and posturing expected for today’s initial session, the parties are also anticipated to lay out a road map for their negotiations, and subgroups will likely be established to address specific topics head on. 

Welcome to Simmering Labor Spring.