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'No Strike' protest draws small turnout

Call it the protest that wasn't.

For months, Hollywood's below-the-line workers have been stewing about the prospect of another industry walkout. Crew members were hit hard during the 100-day writers strike, which shut down most film and TV production. Then came the fallout from a so-called de facto strike caused by uncertainty in contract talks between the studios and the Screen Actors Guild. Studios rushed to wrap their 2009 movies by June 30, before the actors contract expired, causing a steep falloff in production for the remainder of the year.

So it was no surprise that some location scouts, grips, electricians and others opted to protest a "town hall" meeting in Hollywood on Wednesday night held by the Screen Actors Guild. The workers, carrying signs saying "Please No Strike Now-The Crew," contended that an actors walkout would be devastating to below-the-line crew members, coming in the teeth of a historic recession.

Even so, the gathering drew only about a dozen protesters, barely a trickle given the roughly 30,000 crew members who work in the Los Angeles region.

Blame the foul weather and Hollywood union politics. 

The rally was not endorsed by either of the two major unions representing Hollywood's blue-collar workers. Teamsters Local 399, which strongly supported the writers during their walkout, prides itself on showing solidarity with other unions. And the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which has been critical of SAG leadership in the past, has been uncharacteristically quiet this time. The IA is facing its own internal challenges, including persuading its members to support a recently negotiated contract that includes unpopular cuts in health insurance benefits.

Tom Lackey, one of the protesters, acknowledged that last-minute planning might have caused the low turnout Wednesday night but said the picketers made their point. "We respect their right to strike; we just think it's a bad time,'' said Lackey, a veteran location scout who has worked on such movies as "Twilight" and "Anger Management."  "The economy is in horrible shape. Everybody is losing their houses. We feel that if they strike now, there would be too much blood left on the table."

That argument has been made by many within SAG, including during a raucous meeting in New York on Monday night, in which many members accused SAG leaders of mishandling negotiations. SAG President Alan Rosenberg faced a much warmer crowd Wednesday, when about 600 SAG members crowded into a ballroom at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel.

Among them was Robert Schneider, who drew a standing ovation during a speech in which he suggested Tom Hanks and George Clooney didn't understand the studios' final contract offer. Representatives of Clooney and Hanks declined to comment. The "A-Listers," as they're called, were among more than 130 high-profile actors this week who signed a letter opposing the strike authorization vote, expected to begin Jan. 2.

But "Titanic" actress Frances Fisher, a member of the guild's negotiating committee, says there are no plans to scrap the referendum. "If we get a good deal,'' she said," that's going to help our brothers and sisters in the other unions."

-- Richard Verrier

Comments () | Archives (2)

"The IA is facing its own internal challenges, including persuading its members to support a recently negotiated contract that includes unpopular cuts in health insurance benefits."

IATSE has failed and failed and failed to fight for it's members. These "cuts" to Health benefits will cause Thousands to completely lose their health insurance. It's not a rise in cost it's an actual COMPLETE removable of health insurance which will force many members to pay for their own extremely expensive insurance.

There are thousands now who cannot reach the required number of hours to receive any of the Health benefits and lets not forget about the Pension. If a below the line worker does not meet their minimum number of hours and cannot do so for a minimum amount of years they receive NO PENSION as well.

Many sitcom Union members will lose their Health and Pension because they won't be able to reach the minimum number of hours. Many day players who are struggling now to even reach the current min. hours will find it impossible to reach the new minimum.

If my own union (IATSE) does not go back to the negotiating table and change the number of required hours. Many of us who have homes will lose them because we won't be able to pay the thousands of dollars per month more that we'll have to pay for insurance and to pay for our retirement.

The difference between SAG and IATSE is that SAG refused to negotiate until it was beyond the deadline for the contract. IATSE (at least) began early negotiations so we have many months to talk to producers to get them to pay more into health and pension.

DVD sales are up. Movie theater attendance is up. (always is during a recession) Producers can't cry poverty. Even with health care costs going up.

I guarantee below the crew that are struggling now to make ends meet will cry poverty.
I think many will flee the state in order to survive.

I have an idea. Why don't the producers stop paying some actors 20 million dollars a picture and hundreds of thousands per episode on TV series?

I wonder if some of the highest paid actors would be willing to take a small cut? Maybe "donate" that money toward the crew members.

If this IATSE contract goes through, it will be as devastating as the Actors strike for many BTL crew. At least SAG has the you-know-what to go up against the producers although I too think it's bad timing with the the current state of the economy.

This protest was a very informal, last-minute affair that didn't really have a chance to reach critical mass. The bad weather probably didn't help either. I wouldn't interpret the numbers as suggesting that the BTL community is not vitally concerned with the impact on their livelihoods of a SAG strike.


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