British Columbia

Hollywood North watches closely as U.S. film workers vote overwhelmingly to strike

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) which represents some 60,000 off-screen workers, said that 90 per cent of its members cast ballots and more than 98 per cent of the votes returned were in favor of authorizing a strike.

The two sides are supposed to meet on Tuesday

A man pushes a baby carriage while crossing a street in Gastown during a film production in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Film workers in the U.S. have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, if they cannot reach agreement with producers on a new contract — and B.C. film workers are paying close attention.

On Monday, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents some 60,000 off-screen workers like camera operators, makeup artists, and production assistants, said that 90 per cent of its members cast ballots and more than 98 per cent of the votes returned were in favour of authorizing a strike.

The two sides have agreed to meet on Tuesday in the first contact talks for two weeks. A union representative said it was not clear whether the meeting would lead to a full resumption of talks.

Phil Klapwyk, the business representative for IATSE Local 891 which represents motion picture workers throughout British Columbia and the Yukon, says while B.C. workers work are under a different collective agreement, many are paying close attention to their American counterparts. 

At least half the productions in B.C. employ U.S. IATSE members, he says. If there's a strike, those workers would be expected to honour it.

"We understand that those members of U.S. locals will be withholding their services on those productions if directed to at the last moment, if a strike is called," Klapwyk said, adding that it remains unclear what the impact on production will be in B.C.  

"We would be encouraging our members to consider carefully their personal choices when jobs that are being struck are being offered to them."

Similar issues north of the border

At the same time, Klapwyk says, B.C. film workers are facing many of the same issues as their American counterparts. Though they are not at a dispute stage, he says his union and others have been in negotiations since February with many of the same employers.

"It's indicative of the challenges that the workforce in motion picture production faces across the board," he said.

The U.S. union is seeking to reduce working hours that can stretch to about 14 hours a day as the demand for TV shows and films has increased, particularly for streaming platforms such as Netflix , Disney+, Apple TV+ and Amazon Video.

It also wants raises for workers on streaming projects, who get paid less than for work on mainstream and cable TV shows under an agreement signed in 2009, when streaming and online media was in its infancy.

Workers have been detailing a lot of their struggles with long hours and little pay and tough working conditions in the anonymous Instagram account "IATSE Stories."  

Klapwyk says those issues are familiar to B.C. film workers. 

"We do deal with similar themes and that's about time off on the weekends, and making sure that people get a chance for people to take a break and eat a meal during the workday," he said. 

"Those are things that are very important to the people in the United States, and they're very important to people here in B.C. and it's a strong focus of discussions of bargaining everywhere."

IATSE Local 891 (BC and Yukon) Business Representative Phil Klapwyk on what the union's US strike vote could mean for the local film industry. 7:25

With files from Reuters, On The Coast

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