Monday, May 27, 2024

IATSE Talks Focus on $670 Million Shortfall in Health and Pension Plans

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The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees ended its first week of “general” negotiations on a new contract on Friday, and will resume next week.

The union spent most of the week focused on its benefit plans, which are facing a $670 million shortfall over the next three years.

The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans extended health coverage to members who were out of work due to last year’s strikes, leaving an unusually large funding gap.

The union provided a brief update to its membership on Friday evening, but gave no indication of how the talks are progressing.

IATSE represents about 50,000 film and TV workers under its Basic Agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The agreement includes 13 locals covering camera operators, hairstylists, grips, and many other crafts primarily in Los Angeles. The contract is set to expire on July 31.

Among the union’s top priorities is establishing a new source of funding for the benefit plans. The plans are funded primarily through employer contributions, which are tied to hours worked. But shutdowns due to the pandemic and the strikes have interrupted that income stream, contributing to the significant shortfall.

“If the funding is relying totally or significantly on hourly contributions, when the hourly contributions dry up that has a negative impact on the plans,” said Mike Miller, international vice president of IATSE, in an interview last week.

Miller said the union is looking for a “safety net” to protect the plans during future unanticipated disruptions. That would take the form of a new residual payment from streaming platforms, which would be paid out regardless of production activity.

Such a residual would shift the burden of funding the plans toward the streamers, and away from production companies that are unaffiliated with streaming platforms.

The shortfall is also partly due to the rising cost of health care. Members pay no premiums for individual plans, and very low monthly premiums for dependents.

The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans also cover the Teamsters and other Hollywood Basic Crafts unions, which also participated in the talks on the benefit issues from Monday through Wednesday.

IATSE also addressed “working conditions” on Thursday and Friday. The union is interested in items like rest periods and meal penalties, which were also a major concern in the 2021 bargaining cycle.

The AMPTP has already reached 13 tentative deals with each of the IATSE locals, covering issues of import each craft. The local talks ran for five weeks in March and April.

The talks are expected to shift at some point to general wage increases and artificial intelligence, which could pose a significant obstacle to getting an agreement. The union has to work out AI regulations across a wide range of crafts, each of which faces unique issues with the technology.

IATSE has not indicated whether it will seek a strike authorization, which would heighten the stakes around the talks.

“It’s an incredibly important contract to negotiate,” Miller said. “We are going in as we have for last five to six weeks to negotiate a deal. That’s our focus and that’s our intention.”

The Basic Agreement talks are scheduled to run for another two weeks, followed by talks on the Area Standards Agreement, which covers an additional 23 IATSE locals around the country. Those talks would be followed by the Basic Crafts negotiations, which cover the Teamsters, electricians, plumbers, plasterers, and laborers.

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