Viewpoint: IATSE Members Still Feel Left in the Dark

Many jubilant people holding "IATSE Supports Workers' Rights" picket signs stand in a crowd outdoors in the sunshine, shouting together.

Film and TV crew members supported the writers and actors through their strikes last year. Now it's their turn in bargaining with the same Hollywood studios—but union leaders won't even tell members exactly what they're proposing. Photo: J.W. Hendricks / WGA

The Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) are now several months into bargaining the Hollywood Basic Agreement—the Los Angeles film and TV contract that sets the pattern for all IATSE’s other film and TV contracts.

Inspired by the transparency and mobilization that helped other unions win big contract gains last year, members are demanding more involvement.

This round of negotiations is certainly an improvement from past ones in some ways. Many locals have organized their own Contract Action Teams and are holding frequent meetings to share updates.

However, many members, including myself, still don’t feel we’ve been included in the bargaining process from the beginning. And we’re struggling to get information on what specific demands the union is making.

“IATSE made a big show of their national survey and a huge effort to get members to take it. It turned out to ask nothing questions: no specific asks and nothing progressive,” said Eileen Finkelstein, a Local 700 editor. “It all felt very status quo. It was infuriating to many of my colleagues.”

Members still haven’t seen the results of the national survey, and it doesn’t appear that union leaders intend to release them. Without seeing these results, it’s impossible to know if the bargaining team is following the will of the members. And the questions were so limited in scope that the results wouldn’t be particularly useful to understanding members’ bargaining priorities.

IATSE members rejected the 2021 contract with a 50.4 percent no vote, but it passed anyway because of an electoral college-like system. That has left members like Finkelstein concerned that the international union isn’t serious about representing them.


Local leaders still aren’t releasing detailed lists of bargaining demands to members, except in certain cases where members personally request them and get approved by the local’s business reps or agents. Even then, the lists are shared only verbally, without any official documentation. In local negotiation meetings, demands are usually discussed in broad and unspecific terms.

IATSEs official negotiation updates are equally vague. “We have achieved improvements on issues such as sick leave, overtime, benefit contributions for travel only days, paid bereavement leave, enhanced wages and conditions in sideletters, including streaming content and non-dramatic rates in the Videotape Agreement,” reads one from May 17.

These sort of “updates” leave members to wonder what specific improvements were made. What does IATSE consider an “improvement,” and will it satisfy members?

Carol DeMarti, a Local 705 ager/dyer, isn’t satisfied. “I don’t find [the updates] the least bit reassuring,” she said. “There is no real information included.”

Even now that the 13 Hollywood IATSE locals have mostly reached individual agreements with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), they still won’t be releasing details to members until general negotiations are completed and a summary of the tentative agreement is released for all of IATSE, according to this Hollywood Reporter article.

From that point forward, members will likely have two weeks to understand the contract and make an informed decision on whether to ratify it.


Eric Fahy, a Local 728 chief lighting technician, was shown details about his local’s bargaining demands only after making a personal request. “At its best, the secrecy is a means to protect a bargaining strategy,” Fahy said. “At its worst, it hides elected officials from accountability when they can’t deliver.”

He said members are anxious their concerns aren’t being addressed at the bargaining table.

A common line many have heard is that our union doesn’t like to “bargain in Deadline” (i.e., through public statements in the media; Deadline is a film and TV trade newspaper) and that secrecy in negotiations, even from its own members, gives the union the upper hand against the AMPTP.

But how much of an upper hand can we have after the AMPTP has already seen all of our initial proposals, while the members haven’t?

Last year’s successful strikes by the Writers Guild (WGA) and the Screen Actors (SAG-AFTRA) show that transparency—and the member involvement that results—can actually produce strong contracts. The WGA’s 2023 contract has 5 percent, 4 percent, and 3.5 percent minimum increases over three years for most positions. The writers also won staffing minimums, Artificial Intelligence protections, and better streaming residuals. SAG-AFTRA’s 2023 contract achieved similar significant gains.



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After they decided to strike and their media blackouts were lifted, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA released detailed updates to their members and to the public on their offers and the AMPTP’s counteroffers.

A July 2023 public release from SAG-AFTRA detailed their initial offer and the AMPTP’s counteroffer. We saw what happened next: after the public saw billion-dollar companies callously reject these reasonable asks from workers, the public mostly came out in support of the unions.

The WGA takes transparency even a step further. A “pattern of demands” provision in the union constitution requires leaders to submit a list of bargaining demands to a member vote, before negotiations begin. This gives the membership a say from the start in what, broadly, is being bargained for.

SAG-AFTRA’s contract was ratified with 78 percent voting in favor and WGA’s with 99 percent. Meanwhile, IATSE only managed to get a 49.6 percent yes vote for the 2021 HBA contract.

The United Auto Workers’ new reform leader, Shawn Fain, set a new bar in contract transparency with public livestream video updates during the UAW’s 2023 contract negotiations. Fain made it a point to end backroom dealings with the Big 3 automakers, and to involve members proactively in negotiating what he called “the members’ demands,” instead of “the president’s demands” as past UAW negotiators called them.

The UAW knew it had to meet its working members where they were, so it chose a platform that worked for them, with recorded livestreams they could watch on their own time.

Having full information helped members build the unity to strike—and they won big gains. The UAW’s 2023 Ford contract gave workers a minimum 25 percent raise over the five-year contract, an estimated $8,800 cost-of-living adjustment over the contract's term, a $5,000 signing bonus, the elimination of tiered wages, a shorter path to top rate pay and full-time status, guarantees against plant closures, and more.


For IATSE members, proposals have only come during local town halls (virtual, in person, or hybrid) that are difficult to make time for while working, or in small private meetings—with no follow-up documentation, emails, or replays to watch.

That’s if there are meetings at all. While some members of some locals have been invited to see their demands, more are completely in the dark.

IATSE’s transparency initiatives have improved somewhat since the 2021 contract, but they miss a key component: trusting workers with knowing what is on the table.

At this point, the AMPTP knows more about what IATSE is proposing than its own members do. It’s doing a disservice to the newly-formed Contract Action Teams and local negotiation committees who have worked so hard to communicate with members, and to members who are trying to be a part of the democratic process.

How can we improve our bargaining going forward? The “pattern of demands” provision is a constitutional one—able to be ratified by a vote of delegates at the IATSE 2025 Quadrennial
Convention. Members can tell their delegates to fight for this change.

Also, the national survey could be improved, and the results could be released before negotiations start, so the members can be aware of bargaining priorities.

In addition, giving all members detailed documentation on what is being negotiated will help build an informed and activated membership. So far 760 members have signed a petition demanding “full transparency with IATSE members for the remainder of the 2024 negotiating process” and asking IATSE to “update members regularly with a detailed list of IATSE’s local and general proposals and the AMPTPs responses, from now until the end of negotiations.”

This petition is written by the Caucus of Rank-And-File Entertainment Workers (CREW), of which I’m a member. We are a group of IATSE members who have come together to call for a more democratic and bottom-up union, stronger contracts, and direct election of union representatives.

Finally, members should have the right to vote directly for IATSE’s president—who is also our chief negotiator—in order to hold this person accountable for getting contracts that will be popular with members. Currently the president is chosen by convention delegates without the input of rank-and-file members.

IATSE leaders can’t have it both ways: asking for trust and secrecy, while giving members contracts as unpopular as the 2021 HBA. If they want to have a better ratification vote result, they would do well to have a truly transparent bargaining process and listen to the members.

Greg Loebell is an IATSE Local 728 lighting programmer and lighting tech based in Los Angeles.