CATHY’S COLUMN: After Years of Challenges, Solidarity Is More Vital Than Ever

Cathy Repola, National Executive Director, Local 700. PHOTO: Deverill Weekes .

By Cathy Repola

It is often a struggle to write these columns because they need to be written well in advance of the magazine being printed, and with time can come many unexpected changes. I don’t know that I fully understood the unpredictability of life until the last several years. By the time you read this, we will be on the verge of beginning the IATSE Basic Agreement negotiations, a process that will likely lead us down paths we cannot predict.

I do hope that by the time you read this, production has restarted as we hoped it would earlier this year. Still, there is a lot of concern about what the volume of work will look like this year and into the future. Business models are changing and talk of mergers continues. What was once called the streaming wars seems to be more like streaming swordfights. Advances in artificial intelligence continue to concern members within many crafts in the IATSE. Production tax incentives in many states continue to compete with one another, raising concern for production members who reside in states where the tax incentives are not as high as others. These are indeed tough times. But it’s in tough times that we must call upon and focus on our collective strength to see us through these problems. Throughout the history of the industry, artisans and craftspeople have survived and thrived through all sorts of changes and challenges. We cannot be driven by fear, but instead guided by our resolve.

From the time I became the National Executive Director in November 2016, we have faced numerous challenges. After focusing on my transition, reevaluating additional staff needs, joining the board of directors at the MPI Plans — and during all of that, preparing to be the chief negotiator for Local 700 — I was stunned when, all of a sudden, it was 2018! I won’t rehash the 2018 Basic Agreement negotiations and their ramifications, but they lasted well into 2020 and beyond. Then we were hit with a worldwide pandemic that shuttered production and sent us into a period of unprecedented anxiety and fear about staying safe and protecting our health and lives. In the midst of that, the return-to-work protocols were negotiated in order to keep production alive. Then we moved into the 2021 negotiations, which became a heated ratification vote with effects that linger to this day. Last year turned into a historic year, with two simultaneous industry-wide strikes that again shut down production, this time in a more profound and longer-lasting way than the pandemic. And here we are in 2024, facing what most of us believe will be one of the most challenging Basic Agreement negotiations we have faced. (I will come back to this.)

And what did these previous events have in common? At the outset, they were all unpredictable. They caused us to pivot into reactive and then proactive mode. But what else did they have in common? They were teachable experiences. They advanced us in ways that may not have been apparent at the time. And we not only survived them — we overcame them and became a more engaged proactive membership that has built a stronger union.

As for the Basic Agreement, we will enter the upcoming negotiations on the heels of the massive loss of employment that left so many IA members suffering from depleted finances and worried about their futures. The loss of employment reduced the money we had projected would fund the MPI plans. To compensate, we used the health and active plan reserves (good that we had them to use!) to help extend coverage for participants and to offer COBRA-free coverage. We need to secure more reliable funding in the form of new and/or enhanced residuals that will generate enough money through hourly contributions just to maintain the status quo. We need to secure protection for members who will be impacted by artificial intelligence and emerging technologies. In addition, we need to address a host of other matters important to our members, including terms and working conditions that crafts within Local 700 have in common, as well as craft-specific issues.

So in the months ahead, no matter how we are tested, no matter what we are faced with, no matter the eventual outcome, we must always stay strong, be resilient. It takes time to advance our desired goals; nothing changes overnight. But we must persevere. We can effectuate change because, together, we have the power. That’s the whole purpose of unions.