DGC BC issues 72-hour strike notice as negotiations collapse

Former lead CMPA negotiator John Barrack discusses the potential long-term impacts of a labour disruption in B.C. and the context behind the dispute.

The Directors Guild of Canada’s B.C. District Council (DGC BC) has issued its first-ever strike notice to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the Canadian Media Producers Association’s BC producers branch.

The 72-hour notice was announced yesterday (April 26), with the DGC BC noting that any production not covered under a safe harbour agreement imposed by the BC Labour Board “may be subject to labour action” after the notice has expired, according to the website of the guild’s DGC Strong campaign.

The parties went back to the negotiating table on Monday (April 25) after DGC BC members and permittees voted 92.2% in favour of a strike mandate, but “no progress was made towards reaching a deal,” said DGC BC.

“In light of the overwhelming support for a strike mandate, we had expected them to address the issues that are vitally important to our members. They did not,” said Allan Harmon, district council chairman, DGC BC, in a statement. “Their refusal to address these issues has left us with no other choice but to issue strike notice.”

Among the core issues outlined by DGC BC are wage differentials for lower-paid positions due to a minimum wage increase in the province in June, payment terms for COVID-19 testing and retroactive wage increases from when the last collective agreement expired. DGC BC members have been without a collective agreement since March 31, 2021.

How far-ranging the short-term impact of a strike will be is unclear, as DGC BC is currently undergoing an audit to confirm which productions are covered under the safe harbour agreements. The DGC Strong website says “all productions currently shooting have safe harbour protection” as of April 26. Among the series that are currently in production in B.C. are Riverdale, Snowpiercer, The Nanny and a live-action remake of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Neither the CMPA or AMPTP have issued a statement in response to the strike notice as of press time. The parties warned that labour uncertainty could result in productions moving to other jurisdictions in a joint statement issued following the call for a strike mandate vote earlier this month.

“We want labour stability, but we need an agreement that provides respect, fairness and safety for everyone working under our contract,” said Kendrie Upton, executive director, DGC BC. “We care about this industry. We have always been willing to negotiate. The employers need to do their part and work with us to hammer out a fair deal.”

DGC BC said it was prepared to accept recommendations from a mediator earlier in the negotiation process, but that negotiating producers asked for further concessions. The CMPA and AMPTP stated that DGC BC made additional demands after accepting the mediator’s recommendations, which triggered a collapse in negotiations.

What happens now?

Former CMPA lead negotiator John Barrack tells Playback Daily that if a strike does happen in B.C., it will be the second labour strike in the history of Canada’s screen sector, following the six-week ACTRA strike in 2007 over digital media provisions.

“Nobody on either side of the table wants a labour disruption,” says Barrack, who is not part of the current negotiations. “The problem is right now we’re in an inflationary environment. People have come out of COVID and they’ve been frustrated, they’ve had to go through all kinds of hoops to just go to work. You’re dealing with human beings and human emotions, and that’s a lot of what’s driving this.”

Barrack says DGC BC’s demands are “not overly unreasonable,” but warns that the guild will have a difficult time securing retroactive wage increases. He says the majority of producers won’t have the budget to cover it amid other rising production costs due to COVID and inflation.

“Independent producers in Canada have been really squeezed by [increased COVID-19 costs], so they don’t have more money to give,” he says. “Even the studios, frankly, have had to incur major expenses associated with COVID and it means that everyone’s feeling squeezed.”

“This has been a very expensive time and content has gotten very expensive to make,” he continues. “You’re in an environment where you see Netflix saying that they’re going to consider putting ads on, and that tells you a lot about how the economics are changing. They have to recover these costs of production, so there’s a tremendous pressure on those representatives at the bargaining table on behalf of the producers in the U.S. to contain costs. And at the same time, there’s tremendous pressure on the DGC representatives to do something that makes people feel like they’ve got some relief for all the grief they’ve been through.”

Barrack says the 72-hour strike notice is less about prompting a labour disruption in the province and more about getting negotiations back on track as soon as possible.

“[DGC BC is] trying to create some urgency,” he says. “I don’t think that they’re going to want to disrupt the industry for any length of time. That’s not in their members’ interest, because what will happen is productions will relocate out of B.C.”

A long-term labour disruption could have far-reaching consequences for the sector, which has historically been the biggest foreign service production hub in Canada. Barrack says if a U.S. studio opts to take a series somewhere else, “that’s years of employment that disappears, potentially.”

“There are really great professionals on both sides of the table, and I truly believe that… they will be working diligently to try to avoid a labour dispute,” concludes Barrack. “We have to have a little faith in those people to get through what is some choppy water right now, but we will get through it. We will. We always do.”

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