In MPEG’s Town Hall on Zoom, Cathy Repola Talks Pandemic and Racism

Cathy Repola at MPEG's August 2020 Town Hall Meeting on Zoom. PHOTO: Sharon Smith-Holley.

by A.J. Catoline

 

National Executive Director Cathy Repola told Editors Guild members that there are two paramount crises facing the union: the lost livelihood due to the economic fallout from COVID-19, and the long-time pandemic of racism and discrimination facing people of color working below-the-line in the film industry.

Nearly 370 members gathered on a Zoom call August 1 for Local 700’s annual town hall meeting. It was the first general-member meeting to be held virtually in the Guild’s history.

“I certainly wish we were coming together under better circumstances; it has been a challenging several months,” Repola said, voicing concern that the loss of post-production jobs during the pandemic affects, among other things, the continuing health coverage of all members.

“Those concerns have been at the forefront of our discussions,” said the Local 700 chief. “And I am keenly aware we have challenges ahead of us. We have a unique opportunity as a union to come together and collectively figure out our way through this and come to a successful conclusion.  I think that kind of camaraderie and collective coming together will aid us in our ability to help all the members in this trying time.”

 

Uniting A Post-Production Community

 

Repola switched gears to address another crisis that has been of recent concern to Editors Guild members — systemic racism in the country, and the industry, and how it affects the diversity of the post-production community.

Repola said she was aware that “unconscious bias or micro-agression, and blatant racism and discrimination against black people and people of color” has been evident, most recently in an incident in a social media group for picture editors.

The Editors Guild Diversity Committee and President Alan Heim released statements on these issues.

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“We can no longer stand by and remain silent,” Repola said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I feel very passionately about it. We must as a union be part of the solution. I think like so many of you, the murder of George Floyd awakened me. Since then, one of my priorities has been to focus attention to the need for education, the need for community outreach, the need for creating avenues to increase the diversity of our post-production community.  We have already facilitated much needed and long-overdue conversations. I will play a leadership role in this and you have my commitment to do that.”

 

An Eye Toward Contract Negotiations

 

Repola stressed that member unity is critical as the Editors Guild and its 12 sister locals representing the production crafts of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) heads into negotiations next year with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

President Heim said he had been holding regular Zoom meetings with the presidents of the other locals. “One of the ideas is that we are trying to forge union solidarity among the various crafts,” said Heim.  “And so far there have been a lot of agreement that they will stand with us, and we will stand with them in the next negotiations. And if this holds, it will be incredibly important.”

Local 700 members on the August 2020 Zoom call for MPEG’s Town Hall, as seen in a screen grab. PHOTO: Sharon Smith-Holley.

Repola agreed that the next negotiation period would be more critical for the union. “Certainly the shutdown of production is putting a financial strain on our Motion Picture Industry (MPI) plans,” said Repola.  “We already needed funding as you all know, and we fought hard for that last negotiation. And I wished we had achieved something. Hourly contributions are hugely decreased into the plans, we are spending revenue to continue to provide ongoing health coverage for people who have been active. It’s apparent that next year — when we go into Basic Agreement negotiations again — that the funding of the plans has to be at the forefront. Nobody can ignore this this time. It has to be a priority to secure long-term funding.”

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Safety Protocols on Returning to Work

 

Repola said that discussions about minimizing COVID-19-related workplace risks are ongoing, and that she is meeting on several Zoom calls with business agents of IATSE locals in the United States and Canada involved in motion picture production.

“We are all living in a tough time now and the union is trying very hard to keep the membership informed about all things working from home,” said Heim. “Anything the membership needs, please email us at the office and we will respond.”

The Board of Directors has recently voted to cut member dues by 50% for the last two quarters, and is considering similar action in the future. Also the Board approved two donations on behalf of members of Local 700 to The Motion Picture Television Fund (https://mptf.com) and the Actors Fund (https://actorsfund.org), both organizations provide outreach and care for industry members in need.

A question-and-answer session with members continued for more than an hour, with members inquiring and opining on a variety of topics — the urgent need for inclusion in the Guild, health and pension questions, and how to stand up for themselves in making deals working from home. There were questions on how to ask for “box rentals” for use of home equipment and electricity. Recently, Repola appeared on a podcast with picture editor Zack Arnold, ACE who attended the town hall. CineMontage previously reported on their discussion.

It was a different town hall than the one held last year at the Harmony Gold Theatre, a short walk from the Los Angeles office parking lot where members gathered after for tacos and craft beer.  It was also a distant memory from the 2018 Town Hall — in the height of the last contract negotiations — when nearly 1,800 Guild members gathered in the grand ballroom and overflow-room at the Sheraton Universal Hotel. Those days may be gone for now, though there is upside in a pandemic for members to be able to still attend meetings via the convenience of Zoom and ask questions to their Guild leaders.

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The Town Hall was organized by the Membership Outreach Committee, and co-chairs Stephanie Brown and Molly Shock, ACE, read questions that had been submitted in advance by members.

Shock and Brown encouraged members to get involved by running for the Board of Directors, as well as joining a Guild committee. They noted that a new Young Workers Group has been formed with a mission to engage young members to union activism. All members of any age are welcome to join. A list of Guild committees can be found on the Editors Guild Website.

“We are very fortunate to have Cathy and Alan as the leaders of our guild,” said Shock. “It is a privilege to work alongside them and see how much they truly care and are passionate about doing what is right by our members.”

 

About A.J. Catoline 26 Articles
A.J. Catoline is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and USC's Master of Professional Writing Program, and a Board Member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, IATSE, Chairman of the MPEG Publications Committee. He is a picture editor working in Los Angeles, recently on "Ted Lasso" for Apple TV+. He can be reached at ajcatoline@gmail.com

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