by Cathy Repola
I was born and raised in a union family, specifically IATSE Local 683. I saw first-hand the benefits of working union. My father was able to support raising five children while my mom stayed at home to care for us and we had a good, average middle-class upbringing. But I had no clue growing up that I, like my dad, would end up working as a union rep. This isn’t generally one of those jobs one dreams of doing as a child. Most everyone I know who does this type of work falls into it by circumstance. That is how it happened for me.
Even with my upbringing, I was rather begrudgingly convinced to become the shop steward at my worksite. But soon afterwards, I embraced it full-heartedly. Not kidding, my nickname became Norma Rae. When I represented my colleagues at the bargaining table, it ignited something I didn’t even realize was inside of me. To say it was in my blood seems so cliché, and yet what I felt then in my heart and knew in my mind at the conclusion of those first negotiations is that I was destined to do this kind of work. And so I decided then that my career would be to advocate on behalf of working people. Eventually, I was hired by that union as its Assistant Business Agent.
Three years later, I responded to an ad, was interviewed by the Motion Picture Editors Guild’s Executive Director Ron Kutak — and then the Board of Directors — and was hired to be the Assistant Executive Director of this Guild. Looking back, that was one of the luckiest and most fated days of my life. At the time, we were solely an editorial local with jurisdiction only in LA County, and we had only two main contracts under which the approximately 3,000 members worked. Everything was indeed different back then.
The digital editing transition was still underway and training needs began to increase. It was during that time our Guild expanded its role from the basics of collective bargaining and contract enforcement to becoming a resource for training and seminars. The dynamics in the cutting room began to change, the role of the assistant editor was rapidly changing. The proactive approaches to embrace the technology paid off. Just as things began to settle into the new norm, our Guild went through more changes.
In 1998, the re-recording members from Local 695 were transferred into our local. Later that same year, we merged with the Editors Guild local in New York and became Local 700. With subsequent ceding of editorial jurisdiction in smaller cities and re-recording in NY, it allowed us the opportunity in 1999 to negotiate our first national agreement. Today, we are the largest local in the IA with 7,600 active members. We administer hundreds of contracts.
Our staff was eight people when I started; now we are 25. All of this has been achieved under the foresight and strategic planning of Ron Kutak. When Ron announced his retirement, I was admittedly saddened. Working side by side for 24 years…well, let’s just say you grow on one another. I will be forever grateful for his mentorship and for this new opportunity to build upon the foundations he has established. This membership will be forever indebted to him, in ways many of you may not ever recognize.
I have primarily been responsible for overseeing contract enforcement in the Los Angeles office, but have been involved with nearly every aspect of the administration of the office policies, personnel and procedures. And now, as the National Executive Director, I shift my priorities from the day-to-day tactical implementations to the broader, long-term strategic planning. Just to touch on a few: new technologies continuing to evolve and alter jobs and workflows, new distribution models challenging the stability of TV as we’ve known it, the ever-compressing of post sound budgets, and the resulting pressure on our members.
We must continue to look ahead, to anticipate what is coming, to be proactive in negotiating terms and conditions that adapt to the changes, and to protect our work and the members. We must continue to secure the stability of the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans. The costs associated with health coverage continue to rise while market return rates continue to decline, and the residual streams for the newer distribution methods are vital to our future. There will be much more information about this as we near negotiations of a new Basic Agreement in the not-too-distant future.
I thank the Officers and the Board of Directors for the trust they have bestowed upon me, and all of the members who expressed their enthusiastic support. I am honored to be in this new role and look forward to continuing the work on behalf of all the classifications of members we represent. I vow to continue to always do my very best to serve the membership of this union.
It is you, the members, who give meaning to my work and inspire me to want to take on this leadership role. It is you who are the union, and the success of this organization ultimately rests jointly in all of our hands. I long for you to recognize that and to embrace the collective strength you have. Let us walk into the future together.