The Force Is with Us: Skywalker Sound Now Represented by MPEG

A scene from the Shahs of Sunset strike in September 2014.

By Tris Carpenter

Tris Carpenter.

I am extremely pleased to officially welcome the editorial and re-recording staff of Skywalker Sound––the famous Lucas facility in Marin County, California––to the Motion Picture Editors Guild.  Skywalker Sound had been union before this, but under our sister Local 16.  This past June, the contract was transferred from IATSE Local 16 to the IATSE itself, and the members working there will now join Local 700.  This move unites virtually all post-production sound in the United States under the Local 700 banner.

The transfer was supported by both local unions.  The Skywalker employees were extremely supportive of the effort and did an outstanding job convincing their management that such a move would be beneficial for all concerned.

Skywalker management was initially reluctant to deal directly with the IATSE, preferring instead to negotiate with its traditional bargaining partner, Local 16.  But the employees at Skywalker were nearly unanimous in their desire to move the contract to the IATSE––and thereby the Local 700 jurisdiction––in order to join the rest of the IA’s post-production community. The company filed a series of administrative protests with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to the union’s attempt to achieve that goal. After some legal wrangling, the IA prevailed and the Skywalker employees were scheduled to vote whether to be represented by the IATSE.  Just after the election date was set, the company reversed position, dropped the protests, and agreed to recognize the IATSE and begin bargaining.

In the two months that followed, the IATSE and Skywalker Management developed a good working relationship.  The parties reached a deal that was approved overwhelmingly by the Skywalker em-ployees in late March 2005.

The new deal covers all sound editorial and re-recording mixing work done by Skywalker Sound personnel.  It includes much of the original Local 16 contract with some significant improvements–– most notably that Skywalker will also participate in the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan.

More than ever, the not-so-helpful labor laws in the US are under attack.

I had the pleasure of meeting and working with several members of the Skywalker crew during the last year, and made a couple dozen trips to Marin to carry through this effort.  I was often struck by how well-organized (internally) they were, having already set up excellent communication lines long before I arrived.  Once we got started, the sheer number of people who took on some task in this campaign––be it organizing a small meeting, arranging for testimony should it be needed at the NLRB, distributing t-shirts and/or flyers, or making sure that people knew when and where larger events would take place off the clock––was astounding.

Because many of the twists and turns in this campaign were extremely challenging to navigate, it was a very difficult one.  However, the spirit and commitment on the part of the Skywalker crew is truly inspiring, and it was instrumental to making this transfer happen.  We look forward to representing our new members at Skywalker!

Of course, the events at Skywalker echo the message of the “Nor’Easter” column by Marc Laub in the JUL-AUG 06 issue of this magazine.  The hired staff of organizers here at the Guild works best when our active members and hope-to-be members work hand-in-hand with us.  This staff knows how to run campaigns with the best of them, but the internal connections––the bonds that hold together when the employer begins to exert pressure to avoid unionization––can only come from those who actually do the work.

More than ever, the not-so-helpful labor laws in the US are under attack.  In the next few months, there likely will be at least two decisions from the Federal government that will be the equivalent of a tsunami in the organizing world.  Both involve nuances of labor law that the mainstream press will likely not cover due to their complexity, but may have major ramifications for new organizing campaigns, especially in the entertainment industry.  Only through very strong campaigns can we hope to be successful in our future organizing efforts.  We need your active participation more than we ever have in the past.