Contract talks between the studios and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees were still underway late Wednesday and are expected to continue on Thursday.
As is typically the case during collective bargaining, the negotiators were abiding by a media blackout. The blackout and the fact that talks are going into a third consecutive day could be read as an encouraging sign that the sides believe that a deal can be reached.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers presented a revised proposal on Tuesday, and the union side was said to be huddling and coming up with its counteroffer. The talks involve 13 local unions representing 47,000 members — including cinematographers, editors, set dressers, prop makers, costumers, grips, and so on — and the process of including their perspectives can be time consuming. One local told members that the situation was “fluid,” and that there was nothing solid to report.
The industry is hoping to avoid a film and TV strike, which would shut down production almost entirely across the country. The IATSE membership voted overwhelmingly on Monday — by a tally of almost 99% — to authorize the first nationwide strike in the union’s 128-year history.
The union is looking for dedicated meal breaks and longer “turnaround” times between shifts and on weekends, as well as higher wages for low-paid classifications and an end to the “new media” wage discount for streaming services that have less than 20 million subscribers, which includes Apple TV Plus, Paramount Plus and Peacock.
“We have a once-in-a-generation chance to update the contracts,” said A.J. Catoline, a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild. “We are all hanging in strong together.”
The studios have been adamantly opposed to the union’s proposal to dramatically hike the fines that producers pay for meal penalties, as a way of forcing productions to pause for lunch.
Under the current system, the studios must pay a penalty to workers for each half-hour of their shift that elapses without a meal break. Productions have generally found it more cost effective to budget in the cost of the penalties, rather than take a break, and the studio negotiators have been firm about maintaining that practice.
IATSE negotiators are also pushing hard to establish a mandatory 10-hour “turnaround” break between days worked to combat exhaustion and lack of sleep for crew members. And they are looking to establish the concept of a 54-hour weekend period for crew members on a regular schedule to offset the unpredictable schedules and long hours demanded by TV and film production.
Industry sources say the demands on working conditions have been influenced by crew experiences during COVID, when protocols and other restrictions have forced productions to move at a slower pace.
Studio sources maintain that the issues on the table are not so insurmountable as to warrant a strike. But working out the details, especially among a disparate group of locals that represent different craft and tech disciplines, is a complex and meticulous process that will take time. One source close to the situation observed on Wednesday that the lack of public comment from IATSE or AMPTP so far this week is “a very good sign.”
Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.
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