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IATSE ratifies new contract, adds tougher provisions for health coverage

March 20, 2009 | 12:54 pm

As expected, the union representing more than 35,000 film and TV workers approved a new three-year contract, fending off a vigorous opposition campaign by dissidents who accused their leaders of selling them short at the bargaining table.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said today that the contract, which was largely modeled on similar agreements negotiated by other Hollywood unions, was unanimously endorsed by all 15 Hollywood local groups. The guild did not give a breakdown of actual vote results.

The new contract, which goes into effect on Aug. 1 includes some modest pay hikes but also cuts in health and pension benefits. The new benefits package includes a provision that raises the number of hours to 400 from 300 a member must work every six months to keep health insurance coverage.  Union dissidents also expressed alarm over a provision in the contract that eliminates traditional job classifications and staffing requirements for new media productions.

But a majority of members were swayed by the union leadership's argument that the contract was the best that could be expected in the current environment. "We have delivered a strong contract in a very chaotic economic climate," IATSE President Matt Loeb said in a statement.

Jeffrey Goldenberg, an assistant cameraman on the Fox show "Til Death" who voted against the contract, said he was not surprised.

"The union ran a pretty strong campaign," he said. "Only time will tell how many members will lose health coverage for their families or how they will be treated on Internet productions without customary union protections for rate, conditions and staffing."

-- Richard Verrier