IATSE Gets Show of Solidarity From International Unions as Contract Talks Kick Off: ‘Your Fight Is Our Fight’ (EXCLUSIVE)

International entertainment unions have expressed their support for IATSE as contract talks get underway.

Affiliates of UNI Global Union, which reps 500,000 works across 140 unions and guilds across the international media, entertainment and arts sector, have pledged their support for IATSE as it begins negotiations with AMPTP on its Hollywood Basic Agreement, which is set to expire on July 31. IATSE is also a UNI affiliate.

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“The member unions across the globe stand in solidarity with our U.S. colleagues as they go into their negotiations for fair pay, decent working conditions and the protection of workers’ rights in the digital environment including the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI),” said the UNI’s Media, Entertainment and Arts executive committee in a statement. “We support your demands and call on the AMPTP to engage with you in a meaningful way to achieve a fair contract. Your fight is our fight. Ensuring fair pay, the protection of our members’ rights and dignity at work are part of the common agenda of all entertainment unions in UNI Global Union, often facing the same global companies.”

The statement of solidarity is also no doubt intended as a warning shot if productions attempt to move shoots outside the U.S. in the event of an IATSE strike.

A spokesperson for UNI declined to comment on what the federation planned to tell its international affiliates about accepting work from struck companies should a strike go ahead. But with the law varying greatly from territory to territory, UNI’s ability to mandate against working with strike companies will likely be limited.

In response to UNI’s show of support, IATSE said that global solidarity will make it harder for employers to evade union contracts.

“IATSE thanks our labor kin in the global community of entertainment unions for their strong support during this year’s negotiations,” a union spokesperson said. “We are in a new era of unprecedented solidarity in the labor movement in America and abroad. In a world where behind-the-scenes unions stand shoulder-to-shoulder, employers will have a harder time trying to outrun the protections of strong collective bargaining agreements.”

Offshoring fears also came up during the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes last summer. Productions like HBO’s “House of the Dragon” were able to keep going in the U.K. during the strikes because they fell under overseas union contracts. But there was little in the way of domestic production relocating overseas to avoid the strikes, in part due to the logistical hurdles involved.

SAG-AFTRA and the WGA have repeatedly expressed their gratitude for support from IATSE and Teamster members during the strikes, and leaders have offered to return the favor this year if the crew union takes to the picket lines.

SAG-AFTRA represents its members both domestically and when they work overseas. The union has a no-strike clause in place, so its leadership likely would not instruct actors to walk off the job if a domestic show were to relocate to another country. But members would still have an individual choice about whether to stay with a show that went abroad to avoid a domestic strike.

IATSE, the Teamsters and the Basic Crafts unions began bargaining with the AMPTP on March 4. They are due back at the table next Monday.

In the statement, UNI’s general secretary Christy Hoffman noted that the international unions are watching developments closely, as they are likely to have a ripple effect.

“What happens in Hollywood reverberates across the entertainment industry and these negotiations will impact behind-the-scenes workers worldwide,” Hoffman said. “IATSE can begin bargaining with the AMPTP knowing they have got the backing of the global trade union movement and the support of half a million workers in the industry. Last year, we united behind the writers – who are also our members – until they won, and now we are ready to mobilize, cheer and stand by our IATSE siblings as they carry the flag for production crew globally.”

Philippa Childs, head of U.K. broadcasting union BECTU, and Miguel Paniagua, general secretary of Argentinian union SUTEP, have also expressed their support for IATSE.

“We face the same companies and share the same issues in an industry that is increasingly globalized,” said Childs, who is also a member of UNI’s world executive board. “The major U.S. studios and streamers are setting patterns and have a huge responsibility for the well-being of the global workforce of the entertainment industry. They need to do better.

Paniagua added: “We hope these negotiations will send a strong signal to the Americas region that good faith negotiations between producers and unions are the foundation for a fair and sustainable industry.”

When Variety spoke to the federation’s head of media and entertainment Johannes Studinger in January, he said that it would not necessarily be possible for U.S. productions to move shoots out of the country to avoid strike action, even if they wanted to, since heads of department and key crew members who were members of IATSE would not be able to continue work.

“But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Studinger said.

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