Hollywood Crew Members May Soon Go on Strike: Here’s Why

Hollywood strike

Your favorite entertainment properties could be in jeopardy if resolution isn’t reached.

A contentious negotiation between major Hollywood studios and essential on-set crew members has hit an impasse, and a potential shutdown got a bit more likely yesterday, thanks to the latest move by the crew’s union, commonly known as IATSE. Here’s what you need to know about the dispute that could soon interrupt production of some of your favorite movies and TV shows.

What is IATSE?

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees represents a wide swath of crew members, including camera operators, makeup artists, prop makers, editors, and more. The union boasts 150,000 members across the United States and Canada, and while they may not be as famous as the A-list actors and directors whose names you know, they’re fundamental to pulling off film and television projects. Entertainment simply can’t be made without them.

What are the crews’ demands?

IATSE members are asking for better pay (especially on projects from streaming services) and stronger rules about their breaks for meals and allotted rest periods between shifts.

While the push for better pay is self-explanatory, the crew members say their demands for more rest between work is increasingly important as studios ramp up production to make up for the gaps in production during Covid-19 shutdowns. “We are people, not machines,” makeup artist Sarah Graalman told The New York Times. “Just because working us into the ground has been normal doesn’t make it OK. Thousands of us realized that during Covid. We must have work-life balance.”

The union’s president Matthew Loeb said the dispute is “about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry. Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage.”

What do the studios say?

IATSE is negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a bargaining group that includes major movie studios and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. In a statement, the studios said they are “committed to working with [crew members] to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The steep cost of coronavirus safety measures has eaten into the profitability of movies and TV, and those margins could shrink even more with increased pay for crew. The studios also fear the domino effect that could result if IATSE members get what they’re seeking, as other unions representing writers, actors, and directors also have contract negotiations coming up and could expect similar gains for themselves.

Could Hollywood actually shut down?

It’s possible, and that became even more likely on Monday, when IATSE members authorized a strike if a resolution can’t be reached. An overwhelming majority of members — 98%, to be exact — voted in favor of striking if necessary.

“I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members,” the IATSE president 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.”

What happens next?

The teams representing both the crew and studio heads will return to negotiating in an attempt to come to an agreement before IATSE pulls the trigger on a strike. Now that the crew members are authorized to walk out at any time, they’ll wield significantly more power at the bargaining table.

The last time Hollywood shut down as a result of a labor dispute was the 2007 writers’ strike, which lasted for 100 days and took a toll on the Los Angeles economy estimated at $2.1 billion. In that case, some projects were able to continue shooting using a backlog of scripts that had been written beforehand. This time, however, productions won’t be able to go on without the work of these crew members whose contributions must be made in real time.