If the union wins a strike vote, a dispute over working conditions at media properties such as Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV could result in productions being stopped across the country. Many workers claim that they don't receive the proper wages, breaks, or safety measures due to a contractual loophole that exempts these companies from existing film and TV production labor standards.
This conflict has been extensively covered by the entertainment media, with studios and celebrities voicing support and many workers sharing horror stories about their jobs on these productions.
According to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the issue was resolved in 2009. This agreement was reached when new media companies such as Netflix were just beginning to enter original productions and didn't have the same labor infrastructure as established studios. Because of the uncertain economics of these media companies, it was decided to allow them more flexibility in matters on-set where union rules could hinder new or untested entrants.
However, the agreement also stated that if these services become more economically viable then a new agreement should be made to acknowledge that. The IATSE states that this time has arrived.
Who could disagree with that? Netflix is now a major industry player, with billions being spent by Apple, Amazon, and Disney on some of the most prominent media productions ever attempted. Because they are new media, however, the gaffers or grips of, for example, Jack Ryan or Bridgerton, don't have the same guarantees of lunch breaks or hour limits or proper scale wages. Note: I had originally included the Lord of the Rings in my list, but it was not the best choice because it is a New Zealand-based production that does not employ IATSE union workers.
This does not mean that every production under these companies will be a disaster. However, the absence of guarantees has led to what many workers call systemic exploitation. They are expected to work more than what they are paid, work weekends and holidays, and earn less than equivalent work under Universal or A24.
These companies have spent a lot of time and money on their productions, which cost billions to produce in order to be able compete for lucrative subscribers. In order to meet the seemingly endless demand for content, each company produces dozens of shows simultaneously. There is a good chance that we won't get the next Stranger Things season on time.
The tech industry has written very little about the human costs of these productions. That's more for entertainment purposes. It's a common practice for tech companies to tout the benefits of innovation and ignore the consequences. We hear almost every week about a new terrible consequence from a policy or feature at Facebook, Google or Amazon.
It's not surprising that these companies create an exploitative work environment for many employees.
The negotiations between the IATSE and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are deadlocked. Union workers have been asked to vote whether they want to strike. If the votes are counted within a few days, it will likely be a last chance for new media workers to offer a satisfactory proposal prior to a large number of productions being halted.
Matthew Loeb, president of IATSE, stated that we are all united in demanding better working conditions for the industry. He made this statement in a press release. It will take all the solidarity to get the AMPTP mega-corporations to recognize our core priorities and treat workers with dignity.
Although almost all parties would prefer not have to strike it would be a remarkable demonstration of organized labor's power to disrupt an obviously hostile industry. Let's hope negotiations go well and that the new media overlords do not force the production professionals to take the jobs they don't deserve.