by Jeff Burman and A.J. Catoline
It was a weekend of solidarity on the breezy shores of Waikiki Beach, where union members made personal connections and discussed issues beyond the typical discourse of online chat forums.
Hundreds of union members gathered for the 75th convention of District 2 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) at the Sheraton Waikiki in Honolulu on June 8 with a resounding group chant of “Alo-ha!” The District represents more than 40 locals from a variety of crafts with jurisdiction in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada. The convention meets annually to discuss ideas in activism and political legislation.
Caucusing and Making Connections
Ten elected delegates from the Editors Guild spent the weekend networking with delegates from other locals, especially within the so-called West Coast Bargaining Group that represents nearly 44,000 craft workers in the film, television and streaming industry under the IATSE Basic Agreement.
In 2018, the Editors Guild was the only local out of 13 that voted not to ratify the agreement. The members of Local 700 continued the effort to reach out to learn about issues in the other locals, make friendships and build solidarity. That work should be critical to helping form the issues rank-and-file members want to see addressed and assemble a working majority when members exercise their right to vote on the next contract in 2021.
Delegates broke out into committees, including Activism, Constitution and By-Laws, Diversity, Education, Legislative, Safety and a Young Workers committee.
Julie Socash, the newly elected President of Local 706 representing Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists, spoke in the Activism Committee about ways to keep members more involved and suggested that local leaders meet back in Los Angeles to share effective strategies for member engagement. Nicole Miller, Chair of the Activism Committee and President of Local B-192 in Los Angeles representing Amusement Area Employees, reported to the full convention that Local 700’s National Executive Director Cathy Repola was successful in using podcasts to inform members of the issues.
The delegation of Local 700 prioritized meeting with other rank-and-file members, which is the true grassroots power of a union. In official proceedings inside the convention hall, IATSE President Matt Loeb reported on the various contracts that had been ratified by IATSE locals across the nation in 2018, including the Basic Agreement in Los Angeles.
“This is the greatest union in the American labor movement,” said Loeb. “And that’s because of all of you and all your members who buy in, who stand together, who fight for what’s right. That’s what brings this organization the power to help the working families that we’ve obligated ourselves to represent.”
The annual report of the Motion Picture Industry (MPI) Pension Plan released in April disclosed that the pension funding percentage has ticked down to 66.8 percent — a drop of more than half a point from the prior year.
Repola has consistently reported to members that “we need to continue to stay diligently focused” on the plan funding and to “secure additional funding from the producers to bolster revenue streams.”
Loeb’s address to the convention mentioned the rapid expansion of the streaming industry. “We’ve got Netflix now with almost 200 new projects,” he said. “Where the eyeballs for all this are I don’t know, but keep them coming. Amazon, YouTube, and Hulu combined have another almost 200 productions slated. All this production means increased hours into our health and pension plans, more residual payments and, of course, jobs for our people.”
Notably, the 2018 Basic Agreement achieved neither an hourly funding increase on the pension side nor any new residuals in new media.
Dutch Merrick, the newly elected President of Local 44 that represents Property Craftspersons and Set Dressers, was pleased to be meeting other members at a luau-themed reception on the lawn of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the former Coconut Grove, with the menu featuring traditional roast pig, raw oysters and island-local shrimp. Merrick huddled with Editors Guild President Alan Heim, ACE, and Dominick Cetani, President of Local 729 representing Set Painters.
“We are three local presidents together, let’s go say hello to the IA President [Matt Loeb],” said Merrick, revealing that local presidents chatted with the International President about member solidarity. “Our members want to stand up and make a difference — and we need to show them how,” Merrick continued.
District 2 Resolutions
The Convention approved 10 resolutions, regarding expanded coverage for reproductive care, how to better understand the sources and management of the health and pension plans, making sure that emergency medical care includes “in-network” services (California Assembly Bill1611), making sure members who work outside of California and need medical care can draw from the California State Disability Insurance program (Senate Bill 271), and to promoting committees that give voice to LGBTQ issues.
A resolution submitted by Local 600, the International Cinematographer Guild, passed that resolved that District 2 “actively participate in an internal campaign to educate members about their benefit plans, including information about the funding sources and status of the plans.” Repola continues to provide education to our members through podcasts and correspondence since last year about how the plans are funded.
Safety in the Workplace
Malia Arrington of the Hollywood Commission took on a sensitive subject in advocating for a workplace free of harassment and inequality. She described the progression of a movement that exploded onto the scene with the Harvey Weinstein exposés, creating the #MeToo and TimesUp movements. The group is led by Anita Hill and Kathleen Kennedy, who formed the commission at the end of 2017. The commission is a policy think tank dedicated to the elimination of sexual harassment and bias in the entertainment industry.
“Harassment is the result of inequality,” Arrington said to resounding applause in the convention hall. “While the workforce is diverse, leadership is not,” she continued, noting that freelancers, like many Guild members, are difficult to protect from “serial harassers” because workplaces change so often. She announced that the commission is putting together new proposals for Codes of Conduct, response strategies and employee training.
A Landmark Labor Decision
Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation Art Pulaski spoke about building labor power through legislation. He emphasized the ongoing campaign to clarify employment misclassification and expand protections. He also reminded delegates that many workers are pushed into being independent contractors instead of employees, forfeiting organizing opportunities, health and retirement benefits and better wages.
Pulaski informed delegates that the California Supreme Court helped define the proper use of independent contracting in the Dynamex decision, issued in April 2018. The case clarified the terms that can be used to establish whether workers are employees or independent contractors. In short, under Dynamex, workers who do “primary tasks” cannot be independent contractors.
He lauded that decision, remarking that workers have the right to join together in a union in which “there is strength in numbers.” An alternate view of Dynamex has been voiced by Editors Guild members on the “I Am The Union” Facebook page. Picture Editors are concerned the decision could discourage signatory employers from paying them as department heads via a loan-out corporation such as an S-Corporation. Members have taken advantage of this payroll method as a tax benefit.
The Editors Guild sent a delegation of 10 of its members and staff. The delegation included Board Members Jeff Burman, A.J. Catoline, Frank Delgado, Bill Elias, Sharon Smith Holley and Stephanie Lowry, as well as Guild President Heim, ACE. Also attending were West Coast Director Scott George and National Executive Director Emeritus Ron Kutak, as well as Repola.
“I was proud again to be among our delegates and proud of how they conducted themselves,” Repola commented. “One of our local’s best assets is the unity between us.”
There were 202 delegates at the Convention from 48 IA locals representing 53,354 members. The union continues to grow in numbers.