Film and television production in North America is at risk of coming to a standstill after behind-the-scenes workers voted overwhelmingly to authorise a strike for the first time in its 128-year history.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said 99% of registered members who participated, or 52,706 people, voted in support of a strike over the weekend.
At issue is a contract standstill over requests for more reasonable conditions for the craftspeople, technicians and labourers working for streaming companies such as Netflix, Apple and Amazon, including better pay, reasonable rest periods, safer hours and guaranteed meal breaks.
“I hope the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members,” the alliance’s president, Matthew Loeb, said. “The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.”
The most recent three-year contract expired in July, leading to four months of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios and streamers in negotiations.
But on 20 September, one day after streaming shows including The Crown, Ted Lasso and The Queen’s Gambit swept the Emmy awards, conversations came to a halt.
Loeb said his goal was to reach an agreement but noted the vote was about the “quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry”.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has said it is “incomprehensible that the AMPTP, an ensemble that includes media mega-corporations collectively worth trillions of dollars, claims it cannot provide behind-the-scenes crews with basic human necessities like adequate sleep, meal breaks, and living wages”.
The union added its members worked through the coronavirus pandemic to ensure their business emerged intact. “Now, we cannot and will not accept a deal that leaves us with an unsustainable outcome,” it said.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it remained committed to reaching an agreement that would keep the industry working, particularly because it was still recovering from the economic fallout of the Covid pandemic.
“A deal can be made at the bargaining table but it will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues,” it said.
While unions such as the Writers Guild of America have more frequently been on the brink of a strike, and in 2007-08 went on strike for 100 days, Hollywood crews and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees do not have a significant strike history.
The only other previous dispute was when set decorators walked out for six months in 1945, resulting in a riot at the Warner Bros studio gates that became known as Bloody Friday. Should the stalemate this time result in a strike, it would be the first nationwide movement in the theatrical stage worker group’s history.
Many prominent names in Hollywood have voiced public support for the crews’ demands, including the actor and producer Octavia Spencer, who tweeted: “I hope AMPTP does the right thing and sits down again. They’re not asking for anything unreasonable.”