Negotiations on new union contracts with Hollywood crews will begin in early March with a focus on shoring up the pension and health funds, which took a severe hit during the writers and actors strikes last year.
In an unusual move, all of the “below the line” guilds — IATSE, the Teamsters and the other “Basic Crafts” unions — will join forces to collectively bargain on health and pension issues for the first week of talks in March, the unions announced Wednesday.
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The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees will then proceed to bargain separately on issues that affect its 13 West Coast locals. The Basic Crafts locals — which include electricians, drivers, plasterers, laborers and plumbers — will then bargain their issues in early June.
Both contracts are set to expire on July 31. The unions have said that, unlike in previous years, they are not inclined to grant extensions. Bargaining with the major studios is expected to be contentious, though both sides took a significant hit last year.
The below-the-line guilds all participate in the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans, which provides coverage to 75,000 active members and retirees.
The plans are funded through employer contributions. When scripted production shut down almost entirely last year, the flow of money into the plans was significantly curtailed.
At the same time, the plans incurred significant costs to extend health benefits to workers who lost qualifying hours due to the strikes. Workers were also given no-cost COBRA insurance and were allowed to withdraw up to $20,000 from their individual retirement accounts.
Mike Miller, an IATSE vice president, said in a statement that the benefit plans are “at the forefront of members minds.”
“Though the plans took a hit financially due to work stoppages prolonged by the employers in 2023 as well as the pandemic work stoppage in 2020, the trustees of the plan knew funds spent to ensure continuity of workers’ health and retirement benefits was money well spent,” Miller said. “It’s important for our unions to be on the same page as we collaboratively negotiate for the plans not only because sustainable benefits is a shared priority of our memberships, but also because recent hardships have brought behind-the-scenes crews together in historic fashion.”
The unions are looking to increase the funding from streaming shows into the plans. Below-the-line workers do not get residuals, but employers pay the equivalent of a residual into the benefit plans.
The unions are also looking to stave off any cutbacks in health coverage.
The below-the-line unions have not teamed up to negotiate these issues since 1988.
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