The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) voted to authorize a strike. If that strike happens on Monday, Oct. 18, it would be the first in the union’s 128-year history. IATSE represents production staff on at least three projects filming in Oregon right now. We’ll hear from cdavid cottrill, a leader at IATSE local 488, about what the union is asking for and what a strike would mean here.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Geoff Norcross: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Geoff Norcross, in for Dave Miller. Fall is turning out to be a season of strikes. More than 10,000 John Deere workers went on strike this week. Earlier this month, thousands of nurses and other health workers at Kaiser Permanente voted to authorize a strike. Now the union that represents thousands of film, television and theatre workers might go on the picket line too. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Workers, or IATSE, has voted to authorize a strike. It’s set to begin on Monday, and it would be the first in the union’s 128-year history. cdavid cottrill is the southern business agent for IATSE Local 488, which includes Oregon, and he joins us now. Good to have you on TOL. Thanks for being here.
cdavid cottrill: Thanks Geoff. Good to be here.
Norcross: So briefly, what kind of jobs do IATSE members do?
cottrill: We cover everything from our work, which is motion picture and television, to work in theatre, broadcast, the stagehand work trade shows. So whatever you can imagine in entertainment, we’re doing that, whether it’s on stage or screen.
Norcross: What is your trade?
cottrill: My trade’s property master. And so I deal with all of the props that an actor would touch, pick up, hold, carry, anything from a drinking glass to a cigarette to car keys, backpack. Everything that you would see on screen.
Norcross: That’s a lot of different jobs. How many people are in the union?
cottrill: We have 150,000 in our union, across the US and Canada. We’re an international union, and so cover the US and its territories, Puerto Rico and District of Columbia, as well as all across Canada.
Norcross: Okay, well let’s get to the contract. Why is this contract negotiation so contentious? What are you not getting?
cottrill: Well what we’re not getting any movement on right now, is just basic wage and benefit increases. The cost of living as you report every day on OPB, which is great and I’m a member, happy to be a member of OPB, and support public radio. And the cost of living is going up everywhere, and especially in our major metro areas, our workers are being forced out of living in city centers or center city or however, you phrase that in the different towns, but out of the central metro area into further and further out, so that that increases the commute they have to do. And they’re being priced out of homes and rental opportunities.
Norcross: Okay, so it’s compensation. Is it also working conditions?
cottrill: It is working conditions. We have made some movement on some of those working conditions – I’m not really gonna go into particulars or where we’re negotiating right now because we’re still in negotiations – but one of the biggest things we’ve been fighting for increased rest breaks overnight, between shifts. I mean, we don’t do shift work. So typically a worker in our industry will expect to work 12-14-16 hours in a day, and they show up and they kind of expect that schedule, but they don’t know when that day will end, and then they have to turn around and overnight. And then also on the weekends we are fighting for an increase in weekend turnaround time, which currently in the contract is around 38 hours, and we’re trying to get it up to upwards of 54, so that we have a guaranteed weekend, to do what we need to do with our families and do doctor’s appointments and all of those things.
Norcross: In fact, we heard from Michael Fine and he wrote to us, “I have been working full-time in one form or another in the film industry for the last 28 years. The unhealthy lifestyle of working an average of 12-16 hour days, results in tremendous damage to physical and emotional health. It doesn’t have to be that way. And after years of my advocating for change, I am happy to say it could finally happen.” How many years have your members been advocating for these changes?
cottrill: Well, director Alex Wexler did a program or did a feature film actually called ‘12 Hours on 12 hours off’, about 15 years ago or maybe 20 years. So, I mean this has been an issue for us for a long time. Michael Fine is one of our set medics and so is one of the caretakers on set of our people. And so he speaks appropriately about his experience, and I think that’s a great representation of what our members experience every day, with not knowing, like I said earlier about how many hours you’re actually gonna be there, but also about what rest you’re going to get. And the mental health aspect of our people is one of our main concerns. And so we’re asking the industry with these negotiations to change our workflow. Like other industries, we are basically manufacturers of entertainment. It’s not an assembly line kind of job, there’s more creative input demanded on our members. And so we need the brainpower to be activated because everybody needs to read the script, know what scene’s coming up, what their job is and be engaged in the project the whole time that they’re there. But then if you don’t give them rest, and you don’t give them a break, during the day, the other thing that’s been happening is these rolling lunch periods where food is available, but you may not be able to get a full half-hour just to step away from your job. So we’re just asking for really, we feel baseline humane working conditions, and that’s kind of where we’re breaking off.
Norcross: As I mentioned, if this strike happens, it will be the first time for the union, which is over 100 years old. Obviously, you can’t tell me too much, but can you give me some sense of how likely it’s going to happen at this point?
cottrill: It really is fluid at this point. I wish I could give you an impression that would be impactful, but it’s just so fluid. And I just wanted to correct earlier, or just note, that if this strike happens, it would be 60,000 workers, not the entire IA going on strike. We have contracts that are still active. This would not affect stagehands, or theatrical workers, or trade shows, or other contracts with commercials. This would only be motion picture and television workers in Hollywood and across the United States and Canada
Norcross: Got it. Thank you for that clarification. Okay, if you’re just tuning in, we’re talking about the potential strike on Monday of thousands of film, TV and theater workers, And what it might mean for productions in Oregon. C. David Cottrill is the southern business agent for IATSE Local 488. C. David, let’s talk about Oregon film and TV projects. I understand there are three active right now. How would they be impacted by a strike on Monday?
cottrill: Well, at the present, our international president, Matthew Loeb, will call a strike if needed at 12:01 a.m. And so people would … we’re asking people to show up at their job site and we will have strike actions at all of our job sites. And the strike, it’s important to note, would affect not only us because we’re not obviously the only workers on those sets, you have our sister unions and guilds and entertainment involved in, in our projects including SAG, after the actors, Directors Guild of America and the Teamsters, who drive all of our vehicles for us. So, we’re talking about at least 500 workers in Oregon that would be affected immediately. Plus, we cover Montana and there’s one project over there that would be affected, Yellowstone 1883 which is a prequel to Yellowstone, the series on USA Network. And a project in Spokane, which would be affected because some of our national locals IATSE 600 who cover the camera 700, that covers editors, local 800 that covers art directors and production designers, would be going on strike. And so our people would be doing a solid area strike in Spokane.
Norcross: Where do you have a picket line for a union that doesn’t have this centralized work location, and you have these jobs across the country? I mean where do you gather, so that you’ll get attention?
cottrill: That’s a good question. I mean we have two production offices that will be focused on the Portland metro area that have relatively high visibility. But you point out exactly what we deal with every day, which is that we are working on remote locations and we have a really disparate production location schedule between, we may have the production office in one place, the mill or construction shop maybe another place, the costume shop maybe another place, the stages maybe another place. And then we’re shooting on locations. So it’s been a coordination gauntlet to say the least to try to figure out or map out where we will be the most visible in this strike.
Norcross: You mentioned the other unions that you work on these productions with, do you need solidarity from them in order for this strike to work?
cottrill: Well, one of the things that’s been great, is that we have been building an increased valid parity between the entertainment unions and guilds throughout COVID, we came together to bargain a return to work agreement which got our industry back up and running a lot quicker than other industries. And when we get back to work, we also raised the boats and raised the work possible by ancillary industries, especially the hospitality industry [that] has benefited from us getting back to work because we’re renting hotel rooms, renting cars, we’re booking flights, and we’re ordering catering and all of those things that are are sort of ancillary industries or services that we utilize all the time, lumber yards, purchasing, set decoration and props. And that’s why the governor rightly put in our budget an increase of $6 million dollars into our filming center program.
Norcross: I mentioned earlier the labor actions that are happening at John Deere and Kaiser Permanente right now. Strike-Tober is a word I’m seeing out there quite a bit. Is all this just a coincidence?
cottrill: No, it’s really the momentum of a labor movement that … the late Rich Trumka, President of the AFLCIO was really a part of making sure that the entire labor movement was on the same page with what needs to happen, and we’re seeing that across the country. You can see the progression if you go even back 10 years, five years, you can see that progression momentum moving. But we’re seeing workers across the country standing up because there has not been a recognition by the employers that they need to raise their wages, benefits, all of the things, and then also have adequate paid family medical leave. All of those things need to be in play for our workers to survive on a daily basis.
Norcross: Last question, if your demands are met, you get a contract that you like, how big of a change would this be for your industry?
cottrill: Well, I think what we’re working towards is a major shift in the way that we work in our workflow, the process moves forward. Right now, like I said, we’re working 12,
14, 16 hour days. And you start out a workweek, call at 7 a.m. And then by Friday you’re doing a Fraturday, we call it, and you’re working a split shift overnight. And then having to wake up on Monday and do it all again. And what we’re saying to production is there’s a different way to do this, in a healthy way, that’s not gonna be to the detriment of our workforce. And also you need to pay us more.
Norcross: Thank you so much. It was great to talk to you.
cottrill: Great to talk to you, Geoff, appreciate it.
Norcross: cdavid cottrill is a southern business agent for IATSE Local 488.
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