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Hollywood Union Reaches Early Deal

Production workers and studios have a labor agreement months before contract expires.

November 19, 2002|James Bates | Times Staff Writer

It's a wrap for the union representing the workers who toil behind Hollywood's cameras, as it reached a new labor agreement a full eight months before the current one expires.

The agreement between studios and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes, reached Saturday and unveiled Monday, affects about 30,000 workers largely in Los Angeles. It stands in sharp contrast to last year's tense, down-to-the-wire studio talks involving writers and actors.

Uncertainty over whether those two groups would strike last year was a major contributor to a yearlong industry slowdown that only recently ebbed. Studios stockpiled projects as insurance against a potential strike, then mothballed productions until they worked off surpluses.

"This is a lot better than the last-minute negotiations that can end in a 'de facto' strike," said Alan Brunswick, an entertainment labor lawyer with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

The new three-year deal affects several jobs including cinematographers, costume designers, set designers, art directors, production designers, grips and lighting technicians. IATSE is the umbrella union representing locals for those workers. Its current contract with studios expires July 31, 2003.

Neither side would release specifics before members receive notice in about one month.

But both sides said workers gained additional pension and medical contributions, a key issue amid rising health-care costs and declines in retirement nest eggs caused by stock losses.

IATSE President Thomas Short said members were especially concerned about those two areas, adding that "we believe we have reached an agreement which will secure their future."

J. Nicholas Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the labor-negotiating arm of major Hollywood studios and producers, said the new deal also includes additional, unspecified labor sweeteners for producers who choose to shoot in Los Angeles.

Those incentives are aimed at helping stem runaway production from Los Angeles to cheaper locales such as Canada and Australia.

The accord was no surprise given that Short is an outspoken advocate of early agreements with studios and was critical of the negotiating tactics of actors and writers last year.

IATSE and producers negotiated their previous four contracts well in advance, reaching back to the 1980s. IATSE argues that studios are more probable to make concessions to avoid uncertainty that a possible strike brings, and that the uncertainty can hurt workers by causing producers to store projects until labor issues are resolved.

"This is a signal to the production community that Los Angeles is in business for movies and TV," Counter said.

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