How would an IATSE strike impact Canada?

A near-unanimous strike authorize vote from IATSE International could put U.S. productions on ice, resulting in short and long-term effects for Canadian producers.

Productions in the U.S. may be facing a standstill in the wake of a looming TV and film workers strike – but what does that mean for Canada?

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) made history on Monday (Oct. 4) after a near unanimous vote to authorize a nationwide job walkout in the wake of stalled negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) focused on wellbeing issues.

The votes, which were cast between Oct. 1 and 3, saw nearly 90% of 60,000 union members vote, resulting in a 98% decision to give IATSE International president Matthew Loeb the authority to call a strike if needed. Among the union’s core demands is longer rest periods between shifts and on weekends in the wake of frequent 14 to 16 hour work days.

“The members have spoken loud and clear,” said Loeb in a statement. “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.”

None of IATSE’s 29,000 Canadian union members were part of the vote. The agreements under negotiation are the Hollywood Basic Agreement, which includes 13 West Coast local unions, and the Area Standards Agreement, which applies to 23 local unions in areas such as Georgia, Louisiana, Illinois, and New Mexico.

However, if a strike were to take place, any Canadian-based productions that employ U.S. IATSE members under the agreements would be impacted, and if any U.S. productions attempt to move to Canada, it would be considered struck work and union members would have the right to refuse in solidarity.

Both parties have returned to the bargaining table today (Oct. 5) to reach a deal.

Industry veteran John Barrack tells Playback Daily that if a strike were to take place, it would be a short duration, but that it’s in the interest of both the unions and the association to prevent any kind of strike from taking place. “We are in a business where shutdowns are very expensive and that will motivate the parties to find a deal,” he says.

In the event of a long strike, Barrack says Canadian producers will likely see similar benefits as the 2007/08 Writers Guild of America strike, where English-language content from Canada, the U.K. and Australia will be considered valuable properties to fill up content pipelines. With the rise of streaming platforms, that need will only be heightened.

Barrack says the heart of the issue is a generational shift in work values, where current union members are prioritizing more of a work/life balance than previous generations. It’s a global issue, not just in the U.S. or the U.K., according to Barrack, and will inevitably impact Canada as well.

“If there are changes made to work conditions, that will definitely put pressure on Canadian negotiations to look at the length of the work day,” he says. “That’s something we’re going to see more of. There’s only a finite amount of money that can be paid, so when there’s only so much money you start to look at other things like rest and breaks, and that’s where you’re going to see a lot of pressure.”

He emphasized that the impact COVID-19 has had on physical and mental health on such a wide scale is something that will have a longer term effect on the screen industry than anticipated.

“When I’m bargaining, what I see is a level of frustration on the part of, not the unions, but the membership, who want to be heard,” he says. “A lot of people during COVID didn’t feel they were being heard and I think that spills over into bargaining. That human factor, that very real place we find ourselves in history, will influence this bargaining in a way that it wouldn’t at any time I can remember.”

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