A 60,000-member union representing craft workers in the entertainment industry began a vote Friday morning on whether to authorize a strike against movie and television producers over a series of complaints about working conditions and pay.
If the vote, which ends Sunday, is in favor of allowing a strike, the union will hold a second vote on the action.
Liz Pecos, president of New Mexico’s chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Santa Fe-based IATSE Local 480, was optimistic about the outlook of the local vote.
“We anticipate a positive outcome and high voter turnout,” she wrote in an email. “We have been mobilizing members and focusing [get-out-the-vote] efforts all week and will continue throughout the weekend.”
The local chapter, which has about 1,600 members, must get a 75 percent majority vote for its 15 delegate votes to count as a “yes” vote, Pecos said.
Local 480 members are working on 11 television and film productions in New Mexico, including the fourth season of Roswell, New Mexico, at Santa Fe Studios.
The national IATSE cites “excessively unsafe and harmful” working hours for union members; unlivable wages for the lowest-paid craft workers; failure to provide rest during meal breaks, between workdays and on weekends; and lower pay for workers on “new media” streaming projects, “even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.”
IATSE has been negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers since spring, but union leaders say the strike authorization vote is coming now because producers have not presented a counteroffer to the union in 11 days.
“We are tired, we are frustrated and we are angry at the disrespect the companies we work for have shown us in this process,” Pecos wrote in the email, describing union members’ experiences in New Mexico. “They have made hundreds of millions of dollars off of our hard work, and they have walked away from talking about a fair contract, including issues that will ensure our ability to do our jobs safely.”
Very long work hours are common in the film and television industry.
“We are tired of the unhealthy 14, 16 and up to 20 hour days we work for weeks or months,” Pecos wrote. “We are tired of the consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays and on weekends.”
Pecos said workers’ long and short drives home on dark roads after 14-hour-plus workdays in New Mexico take a toll on their physical and mental health over the years.
“Working conditions in New Mexico can be tough, especially if you have companies exploiting the labor force with unhealthy working conditions like excessively long working days or weeks on end with no adequate weekend rest period,” Pecos said. “Producers can escalate these conditions by not allowing members time to break for a meal and rest in the middle of a long shooting day.”
She said Local 480 has been drawing public support from government leaders. New Mexico’s Democratic congressional delegates and state legislators have said they stand behind IATSE.
State House Speaker Brian Egolf, House Majority Leader Javier Martinez and Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos issued a joint statement in support of IATSE’s strike authorization vote.
“The members of IATSE 480 are the backbone of this industry,” they wrote. “Every day, their work makes New Mexico look great to the world. … IATSE members have risked their health and safety for the past year, working through the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the motion picture and television industry remained intact. Production has now returned to pre-pandemic levels, due in no small part to the essential role these workers play in turning creative vision into reality.”
In Congress, 31 senators and 87 representatives sent a letter to Carol Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, stating they are “united in our belief in the importance of livable wages, sustainable benefits, and reasonable rest periods between shifts and during the workday.”
The Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury — issued a statement “urging the [producers] association to negotiate collaboratively and in good faith with Hollywood craft workers.”
“Behind-the-scenes workers such as camera operators, cinematographers, editors, and art directors — the engines of the entertainment industry and creative arts — have played an essential role in keeping film and television productions running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, often at risk to their own health, safety, and well-being,” the New Mexico Democrats wrote.