A Year of Engagement and Activism

From the National Executive Director

Cathy Repola addresses Guild members at a Special Membership Meeting in July. Photo by Deverill Weekes

by Cathy Repola

Two thousand eighteen has been a year of great awakening for our Guild — anawakening as to who and what we really are as a labor union. We stood with our principles, refusing to abandon them in order to be socially accepted. We witnessed an unprecedented coming together of our membership fueled by the Basic Agreement negotiations and ratification process.

Cathy Repola.

When we held our special membership meetings in late July to discuss the ongoing negotiations, you showed up en masse. After hearing the details, you sent me away from those meetings with a clear and resounding mandate to return to the table and continue to fight for a 10-hour turnaround for everyone, as well as long-term security for your pensions. Those meetings were incredibly inspiring, and our shared enthusiasm to make some meaningful changes in these negotiations was reinforced as our mission. You wanted the IA leadership to know that not only were these the priorities for the Local 700 membership, but also that the vast majority of our membership was prepared to fight to achieve these goals. The abundance of unified energy in those rooms made me excited about our potential achievements, and I took steps to relay our message to the IA leadership.

Unfortunately, that excitement soon vanished when, at my request, I met with our chief negotiator, IATSE President Matt Loeb. He was not interested in what I had to say and was completely unwilling to have a conversation with me about the negotiation issues that were so deeply important to the livelihoods of our members. This level of membership activism was not appreciated in the way it should have been. In my opinion, he had made his mind up already about what the final deal would look like and he was not happy we were not going along with the program.

When negotiations resumed the next day, it was clear that he had no interest in any input from me. He had marginalized Local 700, as evidenced by his allowing the producers to give Local 700 a shorter turnaround than all of the other locals. That was wrong and should never have happened. And the other locals — all 12 of them — went along with it. Also unwarranted and inappropriate were his continuing efforts to discredit me and retaliate against me, as demonstrated by his unjustified removal of me from the Board of Directors of the Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plans. 

Two years ago, when I stepped into the head leadership role of our Guild, I brought the same principles with me that have always been important to me: to never compromise my integrity, to always work to my full potential, to lift up others around me, to not be afraid to speak up when things are not right, and to stand up and fight to improve the working lives of our members. Interestingly, those are the same principles that brought me recognition within the IA. I was appointed by IA President Loeb to serve as the chair of the first-ever IATSE Women’s Committee in 2015, and was the recipient of his “Outstanding Woman Leader Award” at the IA Convention in 2017.

As I stand firm in my commitment to fully represent the members of Local 700, that will always be my absolute No. 1 priority. My actions throughout were unequivocally guided by the will of our Board of Directors and the membership. When our values and goals mesh with the IA’s, that is of course most ideal. But there should not be a penalty when they do not. The IA has done a great deal of good for the members, and the IA I have known seeks to collectively unify, regardless of our differences. That unfortunately was not at all what we experienced.

And all of this is why we must continue to build upon our foundation of unified activism and to stand firm in our courage to not be silenced. We still have much to do to build upon the groundwork we have laid and to assure that our most pressing issues are addressed in the next Basic Agreement negotiations. We must remain vigilant in our commitment and our enthusiasm. I certainly will.

The recent interaction among the rank-and-file members in our local and others have created a way to get to know what challenges we each face in our day-to-day working lives. I think that kind of dialogue should continue, and it can be a great catalyst toward forging alliances, finding things that unite us and understanding those that seem to divide us. It is overly idealistic to believe that we will always be united on every issue.

During the ratification process, many members on both sides of the merits of the new agreement felt passionately about their positions — and sometimes that passion led to somewhat disrespectful behavior. I don’t think that exemplifies who we are as a union. We must be able to disagree and to do so by demonstrating respect and dignity, viewing any differences as differing opinions and not a division. On many levels, we are already more united than it appears. We need to build upon that commonality for the successful future of our union. You have demonstrated that this can be achieved.

Your unity and conviction certainly have inspired others. I am profoundly amazed by all you did.  So yes, we can achieve great things if we keep this level of participation growing.

As we head into Awards Season, let us celebrate each and every IA classification, as all play a role in creating the products that are honored, as well as those that are not. While only a handful of IA classifications are singled out for their contributions, our business is a collaborative process and each one of you should be celebrated for the craftsmanship and artistry you so wholeheartedly pour into your work. That dedication to and ownership of the work, oftentimes at great personal sacrifice, is something that is undeniably part of the anatomy of employment in the entertainment industry. So let’s all proudly honor the contributions of all members of IATSE.   

In closing, I wish you all an extraordinary holiday season and I look forward to a new year. As we head into 2019, much of my work will be to interact closely with the Guild’s Officers and Board of Directors to lay out our priorities. I ask you to stay tuned as we call upon you for further involvement and action. This is merely the beginning. You must remain engaged. 

To stand alongside you with our fists in the air has been a true privilege, and I am thankful for the honor of serving the membership of Local 700.