One Year After Strikes, Hollywood Labor Celebrates Newfound Momentum

On May 1, 2023, the Writers Guild of America announced the start of an industry-changing strike. One year later, not far from Netflix’s offices on Hollywood Boulevard, the unions that were on the picket lines joined others from across various industries in the annual May Day marches.

Members of multiple Hollywood unions — most notably IATSE and SAG-AFTRA -— were among the thousands who marched down to the Chinese Theatre. They included members of Unite Here Local 11, the hospitality union that has staged strikes against prominent hotels in Los Angeles for nearly a year, reaching contract agreements with 46 of them.

IATSE members carried signs calling for the studios’ labor representative, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, to agree to a fair contract. This week, IATSE began negotiations on the Hollywood Basic Agreement, which covers the union’s 13 West Coast locals, following the completion of craft-specific talks between the AMPTP and those locals that took place over the past six weeks.

“This is a day to celebrate, and to realize how strong we are together,” said writer Yousif Nash, a member of IATSE Local 871. “We’ve been through so many picket lines and contract talks. Today is about celebrating how far we come as we continue to organize and push forward.”

Issues outside the world of labor also had a presence at the march. Many union members carried Palestine flags and signs calling on the Biden administration to pull support for Israel’s war in Gaza, where the death toll has topped 34,000. Hollywood workers carried “IATSE Members For a Free Palestine” banners.

“Some have made the argument that a political issue doesn’t belong at a labor event, but it is all political. All of our struggles are related,” said one IATSE member with a “Free Palestine” sign, who spoke to TheWrap anonymously. “Politics is a struggle for power between humans. We are using our status as members of a union to advocate for Palestine and its residents who are suffering.”

The IATSE talks with the studios will cover the biggest issues facing below-the-line workers: increases to wages and health and pension plan contributions to cope with the spiraling cost of living in Los Angeles, the long-debated issue over minimum turnaround times to avoid fatigue during film/TV shoots and protections against artificial intelligence. AI is expected to radically impact a wide slew of IATSE-represented jobs from post-production to costume and production design.

IATSE and AMPTP have until the end of July to reach an agreement before the current contract expires, but given the size of the contract insiders have told TheWrap it will likely take at least a month for talks to complete. AMPTP also needs to complete negotiations with Teamsters Local 399 by July 31, as well as with the Basic Crafts.

While those talks continue, IATSE members, along with the rest of Hollywood’s workers, are grappling with the significant downturn in employment opportunities. Despite the end of the strike, the latest quarterly report from FilmLA shows the number of on-location shoot days in Los Angeles County in the first quarter of 2024 dipped 8.7% year-over-year.

While FilmLA attributed this in part to the trend of studios looking to shoot film and TV in other cities and countries, it also cited an industry-wide reduction in production spending. Studios are cutting down on the number of projects they green light — and thus the number of available jobs — in an effort to make their streaming platforms profitable.

“There’s some mixed feelings,” Nash said. “I feel great about the contract gains WGA got, but there’s definitely less work for us. I haven’t landed a job since November. But I still believe that when I get the next job, the terms are going to be much better than before the strikes.”

Nash’s optimism was echoed by IATSE members at the march, several of whom noted they have struggled to find work since the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes ended. They are still holding out hope that their union will fight to make Hollywood a more sustainable industry to work in with the next contract.

“It’s been wonderful to see so many in our locals on the picket lines last year and then staying involved in our own contract talks,” said Lisa Ford-Lewis, a field representative for the Art Directors Guild (IATSE 800). “Among them are some members who might not have really understood the power of unionism but have come to understand how important it is in an industry that is ever evolving.”

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