October 25, 2021

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The IATSE strike vote reflects the epidemic-era change in the balance of work-life

4 min read

In 2006, Haskell Wexler asked, “Who needs sleep?” Made a documentary about the brutally long time on the set of the title film. The problem became a flashpoint a few years ago, when Brent Harsman died in a car accident after working 19 hours on the set of “Pleasantville.”

Wexler wanted to know why nothing was done. In the photo, he poses in a “Roger and Me” pose – only his villain was no big corporation. Instead, he hit his own union, the International Assange. Natya Mancha employees. He attacked the international president at an awards ceremony and accused him of neglecting the issue and stopping advocacy about it.

“To this day,” Wexler said in the film, “the leadership was not responsive.”

How things have changed. The long-running debate between the IATSE and the Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance is now a central issue. The union is looking for meal breaks and long “shifts” in the days of production, arguing that crews are losing out due to high demand for streaming content.

That discussion has stalled, bringing the union to the brink of announcing the first nationwide strike in its 128-year history.

On October 1, West Coast locals will begin voting on whether to approve the strike. The results are expected to be announced on October 4. A “yes” vote would give IATSE President Matthew de Loeb the power to suspend TV and film production in the United States – primarily over the issue of Wexler’s death in 2015.

The film crew has worked for 14 hours or more for generations. For many workers, those times were badges of honor, proof of higher stability, and a commitment to craft. But that attitude has changed significantly in recent years.

“The culture of the whole country is changing in terms of work-life balance,” said John Lindley, president of the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600. People realize that their lives are as important as their work. “

Lindley was the photographer of “Pleasantville” and Hersman was his second assistant. In the years following Hershman’s death, Lindley and others worked to draw attention to the lack of sleep due to overtime.

“It’s an ongoing problem, and it’s not really solved,” Lindley tells Variety.

Roderick Stevens, a photographer and artist, started a nonprofit company called 12on / 12off in 2004, which advocated for 12-hour workday capping. He said many crew members opposed the idea because they could get enough extra time over a long period of time.

“People have become accustomed to these insane times and they have become accustomed to that patch,” says Stevens. “The quality of life is something that you get when you’re older, when you’re divorced and you don’t know your kids.”

He said the union did not prioritize the issue because the main concern at the time was fleeing production. Labor leaders are concerned that limiting the schedule will give production another excuse to flee to Canada or Europe, he explained.

“The irony is that in most other countries they will not tolerate this work time,” he said.

For many, the epidemic has brought a new perspective and a new urgency to the issue. Production was shut down for several months, and when it came back, the unions extended the 10-hour workday-which had not been heard of before জন্য to protect the crew’s defenses. It did not last long, but it did suggest that real change was possible.

“If Covid has taught us anything, we need to stop and rethink how much we’re doing,” said Katie Spencer, a production coordinator. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Much of the power behind the issue comes from young workers, who are less interested in seeing it as a necessary exercise in overcoming stress or humiliating situations.

“That’s how people weed,” Spencer said. “We’re asking who can mentally endure a certain amount of torture.”

@Ia_stories Instagram account has become a place where workers talk about punishment schedules and build solidarity for strikes.

“For the younger generation of filmmakers, they want to get a career as well as a life,” Lindley said. “It’s a generational change and I’m grateful for that. They provide a lot of energy when we need it at the moment. ”

Another question is whether the deal will lead to wholesale change in the industry. The union’s hourly demand has been moderated – 10 hours of downtime in shifts for each worker in each production. That there are already some classifications; The shift for others is eight or nine hours. It will be a small gain, but it is not a dream of “12 on, 12 off”.

The unions are trying to force the production to take a food break. If there is no break, the production will have to pay a fine. Many simply pay for it and provide a “rolling lunch”, where workers eat standing up. IATSE wants to raise the penalty to a level where production would prefer to take a break instead – but this is a tough sale.

For now, very few people are expecting a strike. But the union has taken a much tougher stance than any previous discussion and it is difficult to say exactly how effective it will be.

“The claims are quite reasonable,” Second Assistant Cameraman Andy Kennedy-Dark told reporters. “We’ve been pushed into unfamiliar territory.”

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