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Unions Fight Over Video Jobs : Plan to Retrain Film Editors in New Technology Snags

March 15, 1985|ALLAN JALON | Times Staff Writer

At a time when unions and employers talk a lot about retraining workers to cope with new technologies, a dispute between two local movie unions has cut short what was promoted by its supporters as an ideal example of such programs.

The state-funded project, part of which was to be conducted at Valley College in Van Nuys, was designed to teach 300 film editors to handle technology involving videotape that is rapidly replacing 35-millimeter film, particularly in television production. The program was to be the state's first such project in the entertainment industry.

Program Never Been

But the $653,942 program never began. Instead, the planning of it prompted a bitter legal battle and opened new wounds in the conflict between two union locals over which one should get the jobs created by the ascendant videotape technology, which producers say saves time and money.

Local 776 of the Motion Picture and Videotape Editors Guild is the Hollywood-based, 2,600-member local that applied to the state Employment Training Panel for the retraining funds last year. The application was opposed by Local 695 of the International Sound Technicians, Cinetechnicians and Television Engineers of the Motion Picture and Television Industries, a 2,800-member local based in Studio City.

The sound technicians say 700 of its members do videotape editing and that the editors are trying to learn new skills to push members of Local 695 out of jobs.

The dispute has prompted the locals to file suits against each other in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Along with their many charges and countercharges, the suits seek an answer to the question of which local can rightfully represent videotape technicians.

Squabbles among Hollywood unions are nothing new. But this fight, say some people close to it, illustrates the confusion that can arise when changes in technology make outdated the longstanding jurisdictional lines among unions.

Alters Definition

Videotape technology, by emphasizing the role of technicians and engineers, is altering the definition of which worker in the production process can claim the label of editor.

As a result, the editors, the people who cut and splice film, say their livelihoods are threatened.

The editors have traditionally represented the people who took 35-millimeter film after it had been developed and did the painstaking work of deleting, adding and combining footage. "It is a kind of creative art," said one official with the editors guild.

The members of the sound technicians union have generally been involved with the mechanical challenges of electronic recording, operating taping equipment at record companies and film and television studios.

"We always called ourselves engineers or technicians," said Jim Osburn, the local's executive director. "But there has always been an element of editing in what we've done."

The problem, say the sound technicians, is that videotape has changed things so that "editing" in the traditional sense of cutting and splicing is required less and less.

Electronically Formed Images

Videotape is a magnetic tape on which images are immediately formed electronically. No developing is required. Technicians use computerized equipment to "mix" footage on a master tape, creating a first version of the work that is already on the way to being "edited."

The story of the conflict between the two locals begins in the fall of 1983, when the editor's local began planning the project with the Los Angeles Business Labor Council and the Los Angeles Community College District. The business labor council is a nonprofit organization that brings employers, unions and government together for programs.

The training was to include three hours a day for 16 days at both Valley College and at the editors' Hollywood headquarters. There would also be 40 hours of paid, on-site training with various studios. Valley College was chosen as one of the sites largely to accomodate members of the editors' union living in the Valley, according to Ron Kutak, executive director of the editors guild.

In January, 1984, just before the decisive meeting of a state panel that was to give final approval to the funds, the sound technicians' union complained that it was the legal agent for videotape editors and that the retraining program would cost its members jobs. The business labor council withdrew the application it had submitted after the sound technicians objected.

Charge of Sabotage

In May, the editors' local sued the sound technicians, charging that the technicians sabotaged the program and asking the court for $2,653,942--$653,942 for the lost funding and $2 million in damages.

The sound technicians filed a countersuit. It asks "at least" $2 million in damages and alleges that the editors overlooked an agreement put together in 1973 by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The agreement, according to the countersuit, says the sound technicians represents videotape editors.

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