Reprinted from The Hollywood Reporter by Katie Kilkenny on December 21, 2019.
Last January’s general executive board meeting of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the union representing many of Hollywood’s craftspeople and technicians, had all the trappings of an archetypal business conference: a fluorescent-lit hotel ballroom, reports on the union’s philanthropic efforts and latest business successes, an address by a politician showing his support (L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who thanked IATSE for its work on behalf of movies and the middle class).
It wasn’t the kind of setting where one would expect anything industry-upending to occur. Nevertheless, a groundbreaking initiation did take place at the Sheraton Grand Los Angeles that winter day: IATSE formally welcomed six representatives of an over 400-person strong group of writers assistants and script coordinators, jobs that are historically poorly paid support-staff roles that can nevertheless lead to major creative positions. As IATSE president Matthew Loeb read them the union’s oath, the six representatives held out their right hands to be sworn into membership. “That was a very, very powerful, special moment,” one of those sworn in, script coordinator Jeremy Powell (Prodigal Son), said. “I felt the ground shaking and the significance of the moment.”
While many factors contributed to 2019’s #PayUpHollywood movement advocating for better pay and working conditions for industry support staff — including stagnant pay, a hazing-like “pay your dues” culture, Millennials’ and Generation Z’s interest in workers’ rights and the #MeToo movement, among other factors — one of the most prescient was the unionization of writers assistants and script coordinators under IATSE Local 871 in 2018. Like #PayUpHollywood, Local 871’s organizing drive started online, with workers sharing horror stories; it, too, morphed into a larger, more significant campaign than even its organizers originally projected. In one of the most gamechanging labor moments of the past decade in Hollywood, employees in positions that are typically considered early-career gigs won their fight for greater benefits, wages and dignity — until now, however, the story hasn’t received much attention. …