Massive UNITY Rally Kicks Off Bargaining

With contract negotiations front and center, Local 40 makes sure the studios feel the heat

By Robert Fulton

It’s always good to have a few friends (or a few thousand of them) in your corner.

On Sunday, March 3, IBEW Local 40 and our allies in the trades kicked off a historic season of contract negotiations with a rollicking “Many Crafts, One Fight” rally at Woodley Park in Van Nuys.

Members of IBEW Local 40 joined in solidarity with the teamsters, plasterers, Laborers, plumbers, IATSE, and welcomed supporting union members of the Writers Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, the American Federation of Musicians, and others. They gathered to let Hollywood producers and studios know that “Nothing moves without the crew.”

More than 1,000 union members, supporters and their families turned out for the rally.

“The quality of my life is in danger,” said Local 40 member Michael Robinson. “I love my job. I’ve worked all over this town, and I feel like I deserve a wage that lets me live comfortably and afford a home. I’ve put blood, sweat and tears into these lots, and I deserve some of these record profits because I helped them earn these record profits.”

Local 40 entered contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) the following day.

Health and retirement benefits are key issues for IBEW 40 during these contract talks. IBEW Local 40 Business Manager Stephan Davis stressed the importance of shoring up health care costs and improving the pension so members can comfortably retire after a long career.

But this year, the local has a distinct advantage at the bargaining table not seen in a generation: For the first time since 1988, the Basic Crafts are being joined by 13 unions under the IATSE umbrella in negotiating the benefits portion of the contract.

This act of solidarity swells the ranks to 18 different locals representing 50,000 workers, a formidable number sitting across from studio management.

“It’s been a long time coming that IATSE and Basic Crafts get together and finally sit at the table,” said Local 40 Training Director and Apprentice Coordinator Jesse Barron. “I think it’s going to be a stronger contract with everybody involved.”

Davis explained that negotiations between the various unions and the studios will stretch into the summer. Local 40’s contract expires at the end of July.

The current round of bargaining comes at a pivotal time for the studios. Last summer, the Writers Guild went on a 148-day strike that shut down production and resulted in numerous concessions for the union. The actors’ union also saw a 118-day strike around the same period and gained numerous victories.

The musicians represented by AFM recently wrapped up comparatively painless negotiations with the AMPTP, also earning a number of concessions.

Davis is cautious when discussing a possible strike, calling it a “nuclear option,” and said he gets asked that question a lot by members. If it came to that, he stressed that the union is prepared to do so but would act in the best interest of its members. He also advised that the studios shouldn’t take the Basic Crafts lightly.

“This, to me, shows those studios and those producers we’re solid,” he said. “We’re united, we’re on the same page. What we’re trying to do is really show them that we have the solidarity, and we have the leverage to fight for a contract we deserve.”

The rally on March 3 was emblematic of the solidarity on display within entertainment unions this past year. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA frequently picketed together last summer, and representatives from other unions, such as AFM Local 47, were often seen walking the lines in the brutal summer heat.

In advance of their own negotiations, AFM 47 held a rally at the end of January outside of AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks. Writers, actors, teamsters, and others attended.

At the Woodley Park rally, labor leaders from across the state spoke.

“The entire labor movement will stand with you, and we will ensure that every day we are there to support you,” said Lorena Gonzalez, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer.

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Yvonne Wheeler warned the studios.

“You are the backbone of Hollywood, and nothing moves without the crew,” Wheeler said. “AMPTP, hear us loud and clear. These workers may be below the line, but that doesn’t mean that their wages and benefits should be near the poverty line.”

Local 40 organizer Juan Rodriguez appreciated the solidarity at the Woodley Park rally.

“Being together makes us stronger,” he said. “We’re all after the one goal: to be able to provide good wages and benefits for our family. We just want to be able to survive and provide for our families like everyone else. We’re fighting for the middle class. We are the middle class. If we don’t fight for it, it will be taken away.”

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