Hollywood is bracing for a possible ‘crew’ strike.

Hollywood is bracing for a potential strike by 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers who say they can no longer earn a living wage even as deep-pocketed tech companies transform the economics of film and television production.

A strike by the “below the line” workers who operate cameras, build sets, style hair and perform other essential jobs would bring production to a halt in Hollywood and across the US. It would be the first strike by crew workers since 1945, during the bloody “War for Warner Bros”.

Besides better hours, pay and breaks, members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) want a larger share of big-budget streaming projects by the likes of Netflix, Apple and Amazon. The union says an agreement in 2009 gave streamers with fewer than 20m subscribers discounted rates to help the then-nascent industry. Now, they say, it is time for the streamers to pay up.

“Apple just won four Emmys last weekend,” said Jonas Loeb, IATSE spokesman. “These [streaming companies] are some of the largest corporations on the planet. Provisions to help the industry get on its feet no longer make sense.” 

Negotiations between the IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers stalled last week. The producers’ group, which includes Netflix and Apple as well as the traditional studios, says it offered a “generous comprehensive package” that includes paying nearly $400m to close a pension and health plan deficit.

The producers say the deal is especially fair given the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit box-office returns, a claim the IATSE rejects, citing strong streaming revenues during the pandemic.

The streaming services’ “position has only been reinforced by Covid and the amount of business they did”, said Laura Isabel Serna, an associate professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Southern California. “People are still very attached to streaming now — it’s the new model.” 

While streaming groups have reported strong subscription growth during the pandemic, other areas of the film industry — in particular cinemas — have been hard hit. IATSE members say they helped production continue during the pandemic, often risking their health and working long hours.

IATSE plans to hold a vote on the strike on Friday, with the results expected early next week.

Union officials hope a strong showing will enhance their negotiating position, along with a social media campaign in which screen stars such as Jane Fonda, Ben Stiller and Kerry Washington have offered support. A general scarcity of workers nationwide may also provide leverage, they say.

If there were a strike, it would be far larger than the last work stoppage in Hollywood in 2007-08, when 12,000 film and television screenwriters picketed for 14 weeks.

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