Thursday January 27, 05:52 PM
Hollywood casting agents threaten strike
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Hollywood’s casting directors threatened Wednesday to walk off the job early next week if they are not allowed to organize under the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The absence of the 500 casting directors would affect pilot season casting but, most significantly, keep truck drivers, location managers and other members of Teamsters Local 399 in Los Angeles and Local 817 in New York from crossing the picket lines. That immediately could disrupt feature film and television production, giving union organizers some leverage in trying to force the hand of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios and networks.
The warning was conveyed to about 300 casting directors, location managers and actors during a rally at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills. Teamsters vp Jim Santangelo drew a standing ovation when he relayed a message from Teamsters president James P. Hoffa in Washington.
“Whatever the cost, you will bring those people into our union — that’s what he said to me,” said Santangelo, directing his wrath at the studios and networks. “These people on Mahogany Row, who want to dictate and call all the shots, who say you are individual (contractors), I say kiss my ass. If we stick together, we will kick their ass. Believe me when I tell you about that.”Efforts to have some stars show up at the rally fell a little short, with Marcia Gay Harden and Janel Moloney among the notable names.
AMPTP president and chief negotiator Nick Counter said the Teamsters run the risk of breaching the “no strike” clause of their contract, which limits work actions to disputes with the AMPTP.
“If the Teamsters engage in any job action, it would be in violation of their contract with the AMPTP, and we will take all steps necessary to remedy that violation,” Counter said.
That remedy could take the form of lawsuits to recoup lost production expenses. The pilot season is only now getting under way as the broadcast networks finalize their pilot orders for the upcoming season.
A job action involving the casters would be the first labor action in Hollywood since commercials actors went out for six months in 2000 over their contract. It also would be perhaps the first job action over organizing since the 1940s.
The Teamsters most recently went on strike in 1988, a monthlong walkout that led to the hiring of replacement drivers.
The two sides are next set to meet Tuesday. The casting directors say they will begin a work stoppage shortly afterward if they do not get what they want.
The casting directors insist they are employees who should be allowed to bargain collectively in the same way as directors, writers, actors and most other production professionals.
AMPTP maintains that the casters are not legally entitled to unionize because they are independent contractors who additionally make employment decisions.
Industry officials say they are sympathetic to the desire for benefits and recently tried to defuse the situation by offering health and pension benefits, mostly likely under the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans. Similar benefits already are offered to other nonunion workers, including producers and production accountants.
The casters rejected that offer because they reportedly want full union rights, including guarantees regarding minimum wages and working conditions.
“We’ll do what we have to do to get the job done,” Local 399 secretary-treasurer Leo Reed told the rally Wednesday. “All I’m saying to the heads of the studios is show me that you are reasonable, show me that you care.”
Added Local 399 business agent Steve Dayan, “We’re here to urge the AMPTP to recognize this deserving group of people without forcing the casting directors into a potential work stoppage.”
Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said the threat of a Teamsters strike should not be taken lightly.
“Not only are they large, but they’re known for their fight — they don’t back down,” Contreras said. “Labor’s going to fight so everyone gets the respect they deserve as working men and women.”
The Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America and Writers Guild of America also have “no strike” clauses that prevent them from joining in any work stoppage. Still, those unions have expressed their support, with DGA president Michael Apted noting recently, “This is a simple matter of fairness.”
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief