Making Movie Magic at Universal Studios’ Lower Lot

What’s commonly referred to as the Lower Lot at Universal Studios is where the magic happens.

The Upper Lot has fun rides and thrilling shows, a glitzy attraction for tourists and locals alike, but it’s the production work on the Lower Lot where programming is created to fill screens, big and small.

The Universal campus is by far the largest in Local 40’s portfolio, with more than 400 acres. And it’s IBEW Local 40 that makes the place run.

There are nearly 60 Local 40 members on-site across multiple departments, including electrical construction, the production shop, HVAC, sound and communications, and tower engineering.

Kevin Watson who has worked at Universal for 26 years, is one of the tower engineers that is essentially a facilities maintenance role for all of the towers at Universal, including the Brokaw News Center, celebrates its 10th Anniversary this spring.

“Watching all these non-union departments get changed out like a revolving door and we’re still all standing here,” Watson said. “Having that back up and brotherhood and having rules behind it, there’s a lot of comfort.”

Over in the electrical production shop, Foreman, Stacey Frerye, has been at Universal for 30 years, having started as an apprentice. She described her team’s work as on the “backside of the camera.”

“We’re production-based, but we’re so busy here. So, it seems like a constant call,” Freyre said.

Ryan Woodburn has been at Universal for the past six years and has been a Local 40 member for 14. He works in the studio’s production shop, doing everything from running generators for shows to repairing set lighting. He said he likes the variety of the job.

“I like that it’s different,” Woodburn said. “It’s not the same.”

Henry Castilo has been in the production shop for 13 years and has worked on shows such as “Bel Air” and “Quantum Leap.”

“I like the fact that I work outside the shop, and I’m on the lot,” the 23-year union member said. “It can be stressful. Not only do I work with one show, but I also work with all the shows on the lot. Sometimes, the phone is constantly ringing.”

Every member there takes great pride in working at Universal, and HVAC Foreman Ron Cromar said he considers working at the studio “a privilege.”

“I like everything about it,” Cromar said. “I still kiss those iron gates every morning they allow me to drive through them.”

But it is really the connection of the membership here that is most noticeable. Shop Steward George Heywood said he’s most proud of the camaraderie his team shows.

“It brings us together as a family,” Heywood said. “One of the big things is, because we’re all Local 40, we’re a family, people are less to get in their feelings about people crossing over into their jurisdiction. We’re willing to call and say, ‘Hey, I need help’ from other departments. It makes us a family.”

Heywood is part of the Local’s negotiation team, a role he’s had in the past. He stresses the importance of retaining and improving health and retirement benefits, not just gunning for higher wages.

“A lot of members are concerned about their wages,” Heywood said. “I’m stressing the importance of our benefits package. I’m constantly reminding members that we don’t just look at what’s on our check. We have to look at the bigger picture because everything affects our check in the long run.”

IBEW Local 40 Business Manager Stephan Davis recently visited Universal’s Lower Lot, meeting with members and discussing ongoing bargaining with the studios. “We have a real opportunity coming up in contract negotiations to get some gains that we haven’t seen in decades,” Davis said. “I know there’s a lot of uneasiness with negotiations, because there’s a lot of uncertainty. With that uncertainty, I think, comes opportunity.”

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