Summer 2016

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6 CINEMONTAGE / Q3 2016 by Rob Callahan A lmost two years ago, I met a lot of new friends and reconnected with many old ones walking the picket line in support of the striking crew of Shahs of Sunset. That strike afforded plenty of opportunity for chit-chat; we walked the line for a month, over the course of which hundreds of picketers trod over 3,000 miles, collectively, back and forth on the sun-baked sidewalks of Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile. We eventually succeeded in persuading the employer to relent and sign a union contract — but only after an extraordinary display of solidarity from the ranks of Local 700 members, IATSE sisters and brothers, and our allies. Every now and then, one of my friends remarks that it has been a long time since we last turned out members for a picket line. A few of our regular picket volunteers evidently miss the exercise, asking me when we might next have occasion to heft our picket signs, strap on our pedometers, slather on SPF 50, and step out into the sunshine to walk the walk before a recalcitrant employer. Indeed, the last time we brought member volunteers out to walk an IATSE picket line was the summer of 2015, when we picketed for just over a week in North Hollywood in support of the striking crew of Broken Skull Challenge. I don't know when or where we will next need to put ourselves through the paces on the picket line. It may be soon, or it might not be for another long while. But I do know it's a good thing we haven't had to picket in some time. In fact, it's because we dramatically proved our endurance in the Shahs strike two years ago that we have not been compelled to demonstrate it more recently. It's worth reflecting upon the role recognition strikes — actions like the work stoppages at Shahs and Broken Skull — play in terms of union organizing more generally. In most industries in the US private sector, union organizing entails a group of employees winning certification for their union from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the government agency that administers federal labor law. Employees petition the NLRB; the NLRB hears arguments from the employees' union and from their employer; if the petition is deemed valid, the NLRB conducts a secret ballot election; if the employees vote for union representation, the NLRB orders the employer to recognize the union and begin contract negotiations. The NLRB's mandate is only that employers negotiate in good faith; it doesn't compel the employer to agree to any of the employees' contract demands. We make use of the NLRB process in our industry, too. Last September, for instance, we held an NLRB election at a Culver City post-production facility owned by Deluxe Entertainment Services Group. By a vote of 92% to 8%, the Deluxe employees voted to unionize. Deluxe had paid high-priced union-busting lawyers several hundreds of dollars an hour to help them put together a campaign to convince employees to vote against the union, but that investment bore poor returns for them. After the election, the NLRB instructed the employer to bargain, a few months of negotiations ensued, and in February employees voted to ratify their new union agreement. In addition to other contractual gains, the contract's provision of Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans health benefits amounted to a savings of more than $15,000 per year for those members insuring their families, compared to the health benefits Deluxe afforded its non-union staff. Given time, the NLRB process can work, and it's particularly well-suited for fixed facilities where employees have relatively stable, long-term employment. A lot of the organizing that takes place in our industry, though, doesn't involve the usual NLRB process, but instead focuses on securing what is known as "voluntary recognition." As a term of art in labor organizing, voluntary recognition refers to an agreement between an employer and a union, whereby the employer recognizes the union as its employees' representative without the NLRB ordering the employer to bargain with the union. Pursuing such voluntary recognition often makes sense when the organizing target is a particular show, because the schedules of shows are often quick and the timeline of the NLRB process can often run long. But so-called voluntary recognition — however voluntary it may seem from the perspective of an uninvolved Labor Board — is often really coerced. In the cases of Shahs and Broken Skull, for example, we secured voluntary recognition from the employers, but only after persuading the employers that they had GET TING ORGANIZED Volunteerism and Voluntary Recognition CONTINUED ON PAGE 14

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