Movie and television moguls surely will get more contract concessions from their 23,000 craft workers than the few crumbs they wrung from the Writers Guild of America last summer only after the industry suffered devastating damage from the writers' five-month strike.
The industry is negotiating with the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees for new contracts covering craft workers who do everything from applying makeup on actors to building stage sets.
Unlike the confrontational talks over the writers' contract, there are reasonably amiable exchanges at the IATSE bargaining table, although a strike cannot be ruled out if the industry gets too greedy.
Even before contract talks began, the unionized craft workers were battered into a concession-making mood by the astonishing proliferation of companies that hire non-union employees.
Industry figures show that just 10 years ago, more than 90% of the permits issued by Los Angeles for film work went to companies that hired only workers covered by union contracts.
By 1986, 60% of the permits went to fully unionized major studios. And now, the figure is only 40%.
Many of the independent companies using non-union craft workers are relatively small, so the statistics don't measure the union jobs losses exactly. But everyone agrees the losses have been tremendous.
Fully unionized major producers claim that it is increasingly difficult for them to compete with the lower-paying independents, and they are demanding big concessions to further cut their labor costs.
The majors wanted and got some concessions from directors a year ago, then got a few from the writers. They gained more last October from the Teamsters after a brief strike and will demand further reductions from the Screen Actors Guild when that union's contract comes up for renewal this summer.
The underlying problem facing the craft union members differs from those of the writers, actors and directors in challenging the corporate hunger for profits.
Like it or not, most of the independents must use the talents of unionized writers, directors and actors because few big-name members of the so-called talent guilds will work for companies that refuse to abide by union agreements.
The more numerous craft workers are among the highest skilled in the world, but their jobs are being filled by non-union workers in the independent studios. Even union members are forced to seek the non-union jobs when work isn't available with the majors.
The concession demands gall almost all members of both the talent guilds and craft unions.
Workers in other industries have reluctantly accepted cuts in wages and benefits when their employers were either losing money or barely making enough to survive. But the film and TV industry, overall, is quite profitable.
And resentment against the industry's demands for lower labor costs is intensified by highly visible signs of prosperity. That includes the record profits reported by Walt Disney Co., whose chief executive, Michael D. Eisner, recently collected more than $40 million in salary, bonuses and stock options.
Still, with more and more craft jobs going to non-union firms, IATSE has indicated that it will go along with some of the majors' demands to make the unionized majors "competitive" with the non-union sector.
The IATSE wants something in return. One proposal would require the major studios to stop financing and distributing non-union pictures.
In the construction industry, unionized companies try to get around their union contracts by opening non-union subsidiaries. That practice, which isn't done in the film industry, is called double-breasting.
Instead, some of the majors have financial ties with independent non-union firms. But the result in both industries is the same: more lower-paying, non-union jobs.
The 24 IATSE craft locals each have special, sometimes unique, problems such as those of IATSE Screen Cartoonists Local 839.
Its membership has plunged to about 850 in the past few years from more than 2,000, and non-union competition in this country is a minor problem for them, hardly a loose bristle in an animator's paintbrush.
In their seemingly unquenchable thirst for cheap labor, U.S. companies that make popular cartoon shows for kids and other animated films began sending a flood of work to Japan. Then, as Japanese costs rose, they began rushing off to South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.
China is the latest competitor for the jobs of IATSE cartoonists.
It may sound silly, but who knows what effect that could ultimately have on America's standard of living? Perhaps in time U.S. corporate executives might try to use the "we-must-be-competitive" argument to get the wages of its American workers closer to the $1-a-day level of the Chinese.
Putting aside the potentially disastrous implications of that logic, Disney should remember that it takes almost a month's wages of a Chinese animator to pay for just one adult to make one visit to Disneyland.