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Near strike by Hollywood crews could be a sign of things to come

Anousha Sakoui, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

The day before Los Angeles-based art department coordinator Crystal Hopkins voted against her union's proposed new contract, she stepped down as president of Local 871.

Hopkins said she was resigning from the post she won in 2018 in part because of concerns about the new agreement negotiated by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

"I couldn't publicly carry, or in good conscience support, a deal that I felt did not reflect the will of the membership," Hopkins said in an interview.

The resignation was a blow to the union's leaders, who have long counted on the heads of its various locals — representing costumers, grips, prop masters, makeup artists and other film set workers — to rally behind the contracts they negotiate.

Although the contract was narrowly ratified, a slight majority of members in IATSE's West Coast locals rejected the proposed deal, reflecting deep discord within the ranks.

The close vote portends a new era of labor activism inside the 128-year-old union and could pose a clear challenge to the leadership of IATSE President Matthew Loeb, union members and labor experts said.

 

Loeb, who was first elected in 2008, was appointed by union delegates to another four-year term in July after he ran unopposed. But Loeb could face opposition in the future from younger, more militant members who've grown impatient with worsening working conditions and IATSE's long tradition of avoiding nationwide walkouts. IATSE members in October overwhelmingly supported a strike authorization vote for the first time in its history.

"I would be shocked if there is not a wave of activist-driven changing of leadership throughout most of the locals," said Jason Brotman, an assistant editor and co-chair of the young workers' group at Local 700, the Motion Picture Editors Guild. "Members who started their career in the wake of the Great Recession have very little tolerance for status quo thinking. The IA is going to be a much more activist union going forward."

In a sign of the shift, five of 13 West Coast locals within IATSE that represent about 40,000 film industry workers rejected the proposed contract. By comparison, 12 West Coast locals supported the previous contract.

"I think it's pretty shocking," said Steve Ross, a history professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in Hollywood labor unions. "Rank-and-file workers feel they were not listened to."

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