Cathy’s Column: As the New Year Begins, Now It’s Our Turn to Stand Up for Ourselves

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

By Cathy Repola

Now that the industry-wide strikes  have been settled and productions are resuming, I will unleash the thoughts I held back while the strikes were still ongoing. But first, a big congratulations to the leaders and the membership of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. From a union leadership perspective, it could not have been easy to deal for months with the pressure put upon you. You held the livelihoods of so many in your hands – not just your members, but those of our other union kin as well. I have great empathy for what you must have been going through and a great deal of respect for your ability to weather the storm. (Please see the letter from WGA officials on this page thanking our Local for its support.)

My respect extends beyond the leadership of those guilds and is even more expansive when it comes to the workers who sacrificed their incomes temporarily to stand together and fight for what you needed to preserve the future of your livelihoods. You gave up a lot to secure your future and your willingness to take on that fight is commendable. 

The ramifications for our industry, including the road to recovery and the potential new business models that may result, I will leave to others to debate. I am focusing on our future negotiations and what these strikes have brought to the table.

The strikes resulted in very challenging times for our members. Many suffered a loss of income that will take some time to overcome. They will continue to look for industry support systems and to worry about getting enough hours to qualify for health coverage. The widespread loss of employment also meant a reduction of the funding into the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans.

This reduction in hours will have a big impact on the Plan income due to our reliance on projections we used during our last negotiations in 2021. Now we will need to overcome that shortfall in our own negotiations next year. Even amid all this hardship, many of our members regularly showed up on the picket lines, expressed support through social media, volunteered in food drives and participated in fundraising to help those most financially impacted by the loss of employment. 

Why was this the case? It isn’t just due to the resurgence of organized labor in this country, although that did help. I think it’s because their fight is, in the end, our fight. While we have a lot of craft-specific issues we need to address in our negotiations, the broad issues that SAG-AFTRA and the WGA were fighting for are the same many of our members are most passionate about:

1. Wages hikes to fight the inflation that has made it harder than ever to earn a decent, sustainable living.

2. New and enhanced residual models that recognize that old residual schemes are just that – old. While SAG, WGA and DGA members receive residuals directly, our residuals are a large piece of the funding for our pension and health plans.

3. Reasonable rules about artificial intelligence. AI represents new tools that will change how some work by our members is done and we will have to do all we can to minimize the effects of any adverse impacts and to constantly shout out to everyone that these new technologies cannot replace any human element of the vital role our highly skilled members play in shaping the creative vision of the directors, and in bringing the words of the writers to life and the performances of the actors to screens big and small.

That is why we all stood together in solidarity during this difficult year. That is why we must ride this same wave into our IATSE negotiations next year. That is why we will rely on continuing and reciprocated union-wide solidarity. There is momentum now for us to achieve some tangible changes for our members and we must come in willing to fight and hold our ground. This will be our moment. It must be. ■