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IATSE says potential strike 'could be extremely disruptive'

IATSE Director of Communications Jonas Loeb joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to disucss the state of workers’ rights in Hollywood as a potential strike looms.

Video Transcript

- Our next guest who is Jonas Loeb, the IATSE Director of Communications. And I just want to let you know that that's the union. This is the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. They're negotiating right now with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the Trade Association with Hollywood about the future of how you protect the people who-- We love the stars, but it's men and women behind the scenes who bring them to us. So it's good to have you here. What's holding up the negotiations? Why is there no new deal?

JONAS LOEB: Sure, yeah, I mean, the negotiations that are ongoing now have been ongoing since about May, and now what's kind of holding up the negotiations are reasonable rest period during workdays, during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends, lack of sustainable benefits, and trying to ensure that folks can retire with dignity at the end of their careers.

Things pertaining to the fact that some workers who work on certain streaming productions are paid less than big-budget blockbusters that otherwise they would be paid more if they were released traditionally. And some of what we're seeing is based on growing pains, I think, with the relatively new media streaming industry. So those are three kind of major points, yeah.

- Hey, Jonas. I want to ask you a little bit more about the streaming aspect of everything. But talk to me a little bit about the potential impact here because this would be the first strike for this union and really the most significant since the writers' strike 14 years ago. I remember when that happened all of our favorite shows were cut short. Could that happen again? What's the impact and how will that affect the consumer?

JONAS LOEB: Sure, as you said, this has never happened before and it's never had to happen. Negotiations, these go every three years, they're usually done by the middle of summer. So we've kind of never gotten to this point before. It's extremely difficult to kind of speculate as to what the impact and how disruptive a strike would be.

But with how big these companies are and how many different types of productions happen all over the world, under some of these agreements, not just in the United States, we're seeing that it could be extremely disruptive if it comes to that.

And nobody wants to strike. I think it is really unfortunate and it stinks.

- Kindly pull the plug. We lost your signal. Come back.


- Jonas, you're reconnected. We got you. We got you.


- Let me ask you this.


- When we talk about-- I was reading some of the horror stories. I think there was the car accident years and years ago. There were Individuals working a 19-hour shift, and it's not uncommon for some of the people in your trade to work 14-hour shifts. What was addressed in the previous contracts to protect people from that kind of stuff? Why is that happening still to this day? Wasn't that addressed to years past?

JONAS LOEB: Sure, great question. Yeah, I mean, we have been trying to up what is called the turnaround time, which is a defined number of hours from when you leave work and then when you're due back. And the last contract negotiations from 2018 had provisions in it where if you were working several days in a row or an extremely long day, that if you asked for lodging or a ride home, that had to be provided.

However, those services might not have been advertised sufficiently, and some folks might just try to stick it out and go home. I mean, you'd rather be home with your family, right? These are the kind of issues that we're dealing with: right and wrong kind of bread and butter issues where folks want to go home and be able to have a family.

And even in a case where somebody happens to gets a trailer or somebody-- they don't get to be home with their family while that show is shooting. Or if they're working in post-production or something like that. I mean, yeah, some of the horror stories are absolutely terrible and they're frankly shocking, even as somebody in the industry who has known about this and some of these are long-standing issues.

But now it's kind of the time. I think that the pandemic has really brought folks to a breaking point. Some of the hours and conditions have gotten worse, trying to make up for all the lost time. Last year, in 2020, I mean, no production really happened from March 2020 until about September when we figured out along with the Motion Picture Television producers and some of the other Hollywood guilds, like SAG-AFTRA and the DGA, protocols for how to film in the middle of a pandemic.

So there's a six month backlog in addition to whatever the time was from when something finishes-- production and post-production-- to when it is actually released. And so we're hoping that we're able to make a deal and prevent the studios from forcing that time to be even longer.

- And Jonas, you touched on this briefly. But the contract that you guys are operating under treats streaming services like new media, still in development, will this work or won't they? But the argument here is that streamers have really doubled down. They've proven themselves to be kind of the golden goose egg of this industry. So talk to me about why it's important to now classify streamers differently?

JONAS LOEB: Sure, I mean, we all remember-- and it's funny to talk to folks about this-- when Netflix was advertising how easy it was to mail DVDs back and forth from their headquarters. And that was kind of when some of those provisions were put in place. There is, in the contract, for folks streaming platforms with less than 20 million subscribers, get discounted rates where they're paying $0.73 on the dollar, in some cases, less than traditionally released blockbusters.

The thing now is that these aren't small companies anymore. We put that there to help the industry, this new industry get on its feet. And now the people entering the game are some of the biggest companies on the planet. And in some cases, literally by market cap, the top two companies on the planet. We don't feel that those subsidies are helping the industry get on its feet anymore. In some cases, it's just helping the rich get richer.