Disney+, Netflix, and Others to Face Possible Halt In Production

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On the fifth of October, 2021, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), a labor union that represents over 150,000 international workers in the entertainment industry, announced that their American members overwhelmingly voted to authorize a nationwide strike. If an agreement can’t be met and the strike is enacted, the production of original features (eg. Bo Burnham: Inside, Loki) from streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and Apple TV+ would cease almost entirely. Reality shows, game shows, and talk shows would also face major issues, as well as large companies like Warner Bros. Pictures. 

In the official announcement, the union’s president Matthew Loeb said,

“This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry. Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage.”

In total there were more than 60,000 votes cast, a turnout of about 90%. Support for the strike authorization was at a nearly unanimous 98% of union voters. These statistics coupled with the fact that this is the first nationwide strike called for by the union in its 128 years of existence make it clear that the people responsible for producing some of your favorite shows and films feel they aren’t being compensated properly.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade association that represents over 350 American film production companies in negotiations with unions like IATSE, was informed of the results on Monday, October 4. This is after, according to Loeb, almost five months of negotiations to no avail, alleging that they sent the AMPTP a proposal, but received no response. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the union president said,

“Our goal is to reach an agreement, not have a dispute. We got to this point by repeatedly stressing our priorities and getting no movement.”

The negotiations came as a result of streaming services gaining even more prominence throughout the lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2009, the union made a deal with studios that gave them leeway in productions designated as “New Media”, basically anything made to be released online. At the time, “New Media” wasn’t economically viable, and thus studios weren’t able to provide a sufficient budget to compensate workers with the pay and benefits that had been agreed upon. The caveat was that “if and when ‘New Media’ productions became an economically viable medium, then the parties would mutually recognize that fact in future agreements.”

This is what, according to workers and union leaders, the AMPTP has failed to do. Loeb continued,

“Our members are working on productions where [producers are] spending inordinate amounts of money and [members are] taking pay hits. They’re working on productions with extremely high production value. Episodic television looks different these days, right? The companies have invested in a way that ignores our peoples’ investment and service for them. So they’re putting in huge budgets and we’re taking pay cuts.”

The union isn’t just fighting for better pay and benefits though, it’s also a matter of safety for many. In an interview, special effects worker and rank-and-file IATSE member Don M. spoke on the conditions in which he was expected to work.

“We definitely do work over 60 hours a week—that is actually considered our baseline… I’ve worked 20-hour days before.”

“So what happens a lot of the time the way that they’ll schedule their days is to what we called French hours you shoot for 10 hours straight with no break. But you make extra meal penalties, kind of like working a 12-hour day with a break. But if we didn’t have our union, they wouldn’t do that, you know? You wouldn’t get that extra pay.”

“I worked on a production for Netflix where I did 106 hours and seven days.”

These are just a few of the allegations made, thousands of workers have been speaking out over conditions within the film industry. While it may be inconvenient to have your favorite show postponed, this is an important discussion to be had. The workers that make all of it possible are ready to fight for justice.

“I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members, the ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, [the AMPTP] will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.”

Show solidarity, sign the petition!