There was a point, late last week, when Cathy Repola thought there would be a strike.
By Oct. 15, Repola, the executive director of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, and other union officials had spent 10 days in marathon Zoom sessions with the studios — and were making little progress.
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“There was very little movement for several days,” says Repola. “Then everything flipped and moved drastically in the last 48 hours.”
By late afternoon on Oct. 16 the two sides had a deal. IATSE announced that film and TV production would not shut down at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 18, as many had worried. Matthew Loeb, the international president of IATSE, proclaimed it a “Hollywood ending.”
But the drama is not over. The contract must still be ratified, and many members quickly denounced it on social media. The rank and file had organized online in support of a historic strike authorization vote, sharing the pain and frustration of toiling behind the scenes in Hollywood, in hopes of getting better working conditions and pay. To them, the deal felt like the status quo. It’s not clear whether that opposition is broad enough to kill it with a no vote on the ratification — but the leadership has more work to do.
“We whipped a whole group of younger people up into a frenzy for the strike,” says one union veteran. “And it’s a little hard to put the brakes on.”
The IATSE uprising caught the industry entirely by surprise. Over the summer, the crew union engaged in initial talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the trade group that handles collective bargaining for the studios. Hollywood CEOs stayed on the sidelines, not expecting any drama given the long history of mostly smooth relations with IATSE. But many frustrated workers put pressure on leadership to take a harder line.
With little progress to show, the union leaders called for a strike vote on Sept. 20 — and 52,000 members mobilized to support it. That got the attention of top studio executives, and furious rounds of back-channeling and stealth diplomacy ensued. Among the key players were Peter Rice, chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, former Directors Guild of America president Jay Roth and CAA managing director Bryan Lourd.
Rice emerged as a liaison for the major studios in part because Disney has so much production lined up that a strike would have been devastating, with costly shutdowns and disruptions to the supply chain for Disney Plus and other platforms.
Inside the formal Zoom bargaining sessions, meanwhile, AMPTP president Carol Lombardini made a point of keeping the talks within a tight circle of executives. IATSE did the same, with Loeb and IATSE first vice president Mike Miller doing most of the talking and deal-making.
The AMPTP agreed soon after the strike vote to grant 10 hours off between shifts to all workers, without exception, and a 54-hour weekend — two of the union’s key demands.
But the talks dragged out on thornier matters. Multiple sources say the small circle of players in the talks led by Lombardini and Loeb made it easier to make bolder moves like changing the wage formulas for streaming services. The old contract allowed nascent services with fewer than 20 million subscribers — such as Apple TV Plus, Peacock and Paramount Plus — to pay discounted wages to crews. The new formula relies more heavily on a platform’s total content expenditures over a defined period of time.
In the past week, Disney began to take the strike threat so seriously that it started to organize committees to develop contingency plans. The AMPTP agreed to higher pay for the lowest-wage workers and a doubling of meal penalties after eight hours — a key issue that was one of the last to fall into place.
One major disappointment for IATSE, though, is that streaming services will not have to pay extra residuals into the pension and health plans. That had largely flown under the radar, as the focus turned to long hours and rest periods.
But many in the membership fear that the union blew a golden opportunity to secure the future of the retirement and health plans by making streamers pay more.
“I am mad as hell,” says Myron Kerstein, editor of “In the Heights” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” “The fact that the streamers are not willing to pay into these funds demonstrates that they don’t care about the laborers that make their content.”
And a lot of members feel like their broader concerns about work-life balance and inhumane conditions fell on deaf ears with the union leadership.
“People are angry, but behind the anger is a lot of pain and suffering,” says Cici Andersen, a member of the hair and makeup guild. “This contract never lets us get ahead. It only lets us continue to slave away.”
Amid the calls to reject the agreement, Repola says that the voices of supporters of the deal were not being heard.
“The people that are positive about it are quiet right now,” she says. “But I’ve gotten emails from lots of members who are relieved they don’t have to go on strike.”
Jazz Tangcay contributed to this report.