Several affiliates of Hollywood’s largest crew union are preparing for the union’s next round of bargaining by implementing a contract captain system.
Several major local members of IATSE—The Motion Picture Editors Guild (IATSE Local 700), the International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600), and IATSE Local 728—are creating these teams, which task volunteer union members with communicating bargaining information to a group of their members. colleagues, while also communicating members’ sentiments to leaders, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. The groups are being formed ahead of negotiations on the IATSE Basic Agreement, which are expected to begin as early as March, ahead of the pact’s expiration date of July 31, 2024.
In a communication to members Of its new “contract action team,” the Editors Guild stated: “We don’t expect the next round of negotiations to be easy; we know we have to be prepared to fight for the contract we deserve. In any struggle, a union is only as strong as its members are united, informed and committed.” The group of volunteers will “ensure that we enter the upcoming round of negotiations with the strength necessary to secure a fair contract,” the communication continued.
The system is similar to one long used by the Writers Guild of America, widely considered the most aggressive labor group in Hollywood. The WGA contract captains, who are tasked with communicating and improving morale during negotiations but who take on greater organizational responsibilities in the event of a strike, have served continuously since the 2007-2008 union strike. (The union previously occasionally used strike captains during previous work stoppages.) “That’s how you mobilize 8,000 people,” WGA director David Young, who is credited with implementing the latest system, told the Los Angeles Times in 2007.
This year, the Directors Guild of America established a similar “outreach team” ahead of negotiations that the union warned would be “difficult” (the DGA ultimately struck a deal with studios on June 3 before the pact expired). SAG-AFTRA, meanwhile, asked for strike captain volunteers days before the ongoing strike was declared on July 14.
IATSE Locals may have several reasons for forming these groups. Negotiations in 2024 are expected to be tough, as IATSE delegates have only just ratified the union’s 2021 Basic Agreement, amid outrage that the interim agreement had not done enough to introduce reasonable rest periods and protect health and secure union pension plans. (Still, it remains to be seen how aggressively the union will be willing to act in the bargaining room in 2024, with many crew members deeply affected by the concluded writers’ strike and the ongoing actors’ strike.)
And many IATSE leaders were surprised by the increasing assertiveness of union members during the months of bargaining in 2021, when the deal was hammered out over an extended period. While negotiators were in the negotiating room, a popular Instagram account, IATSE Stories, sprang up to tell anonymous horror stories about working conditions, while in October that year Rust cameraman Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot, reigniting talk about crew safety. The contract captaincy system is ostensibly being set up to inform leaders of any shifting winds in member sentiment, and to keep members informed of the union’s view of the negotiations.
The crew union has been preparing for months for 2024 negotiations, with bargaining surveys expected to be sent to members to determine priorities for the next round of talks soon.