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Matt Loeb of IATSE takes a more aggressive role

IATSE President Loeb has been shaking things up inside the entertainment industry's largest union. He's willing to thrust it into high-profile skirmishes on behalf of the nearly 120,000 behind-the-scenes workers who are its members.

June 27, 2011|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

More daunting is a campaign the IA has launched to bring union contracts to visual-effects artists. Historically, makeup artists and other special-effects craftspeople were covered under union contracts. But most computer graphics artists today work as freelancers and don't have health insurance benefits and other union protections. "They are the only trade that works on a movie that is not represented," Loeb said. "That's astounding to me."

The union has dedicated a full-time organizer to meet with workers, but Loeb acknowledges the effort has met with some resistance on the part of employers, especially in California, where many companies are struggling to compete with low-cost labor and tax incentives offered by foreign rivals.

Dan Schmit, owner of L.A. effects house Engine Room, said he sympathized with the goal of unionizing workers at major studios but said it would hurt small boutique firms like his that rely mainly on independent contractors. "My hands would be tied in terms of my ability to negotiate for bids," said Schmit, who already offers health benefits to most of his 10 employees.

Still, Loeb also stresses common ground with employers in such areas as fighting piracy. The IA has a full-time lobbyist in Washington dedicated to supporting anti-piracy legislation, and Loeb has frequently spoken out against the damage piracy inflicts on residuals.

"The idea is to keep the industry healthy and keep our people working," Loeb said. "That's my job, that's the CEOs' job. It's not necessarily a contradictory relationship."

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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