Over a few days in October 2021, while watching film and TV crew members unionized with IATSE threatening to go on strike, a producer and production supervisor working on a major commercial job considered taking their own stand. .
Erin Wile and Cheyenne Cage worked on a multimillion-dollar ad campaign for a major tech company that propelled them to their breaking point: production took long hours and long travel times, coordinating various shooting and navigating the threat of bad weather, all while asking the production team for more. to get on their plate. (Wile and Cage declined to name the companies involved publicly, but The Hollywood Reporter confirmed the details of the shoot with other collaborators on the project.) Finally, three days after the shoot and after saying they had raised concerns that were not being addressed, Wile and Cage walked off the runway, and the assistant production supervisor of the project, production assistants, COVID compliance team and script supervisor followed suit.
It was a big decision, as the commercial production teams are not unionized and some of these employees depend on close relationships with companies to get work. Cage forwarded an email she sent to the campaign’s executive producer, calling for “humane and fair treatment” from a number of colleagues, and soon the story of this rare production team walkoff began to circulate widely. . Cage says she and Wile have received “hundreds” of emails and many phone calls about their action. To keep the conversation about working conditions going, the couple hosted a virtual “town hall” the following week, attended by hundreds. “Erin and I were like, okay, something is happening now,” Cage says. “From there, we continued to host town halls that slowly became more and more about organizing.”
Thus began Stand With Production, a grassroots working group founded by Wile and Cage that now seeks with IATSE to unite members of production departments on TV commercials. The group, which goes public on Thursday with its union efforts, wants to merge production assistants, assistant production supervisors, production supervisors, line producers and bidding producers into a national union. They are currently collecting union authorization cards and eventually want to apply for voluntary recognition from the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), which negotiates with unions on behalf of independent commercial production and post-production companies, but has not yet contacted the demand. . (The AICP declined comment at this time.)
Stand With Production decided to gradually try to form a union. After the group’s first town hall in 2021, more virtual meetings followed and Wile and Cage began talking one-on-one with production staff, who typically handle the logistics of commercial TV shoots while managing budget and communications. with the project’s production company. , agency and client. Inspired by one of those conversations, a group of Stand With Production members wrote a set of “production guidelines” with detailed labor standards for production departments that the group believes should be implemented across the industry. The guidelines suggest daily wages that the group finds acceptable and how those rates could increase as the cost of living rises; they also suggest how employees who work more than 12 hours a day and/or work six or seven consecutive days in a week should be paid. More than 1,700 production workers and industry supporters signed a petition support the guidelines, and Stand With Production has encouraged its members to ask employers to respect the guidelines in labor negotiations. (Initially, the group planned a strike at the guidelines, but later scrapped that idea; nevertheless, the guidelines and the threat of a strike “gave us a little bit of political power” and raised wages for some workers, Wile says). Stand With Production also compiled a database of the names, contact details and regions of thousands of workers in the field.
In late 2021, a member of Stand With Production began reaching out to a number of unions, including IATSE, to explore the group’s capabilities. Still, sentiment on whether the group should join a union has been mixed: Line producer Josh Jupiter notes that he was initially “very negative” about the union work, while production assistant Hank Hartnell says he was skeptical about restricting group members to union work (both are now supporters of the IATSE Union Drive). Further, “I think the majority of the group felt it would be difficult to go with a Local because we are spread all over the country,” Wile says.
According to the group, multiple organizations, including the Communications Workers of America, have expressed an interest in talking to the group, but IATSE made the most compelling pitch for unionizing with their organization. The union offered to try to unite all the roles that Stand With Production brought together, organize them on a national scale and leave Stand With Production in charge. (THR has contacted CWA for comment.)
On the IATSE side, it was a bit unusual to land on a group that had already reached out to so many workers and drawn up a list of desirable labor standards. “It’s unusual but welcome that this level of organization exists prior to an actual union campaign,” said a source close to the union.
While Stand With Production’s organizers and supporters say the concerns they want to address with a union are chronic, those issues came to a head during the pandemic. Like the IATSE film and television members who authorized a strike in the fall of 2021, the group wants to introduce longer rest periods, turnaround times and safety training, arguing that COVID-19 has put even more pressure than usual on their teams. . In addition, members say they want to raise standard rates because their wages have not kept up with years of inflation; some of the roles the group would like to unify are also currently ineligible for overtime. Advocates seek access to union health and pension plans (many AICP employers already offer certain non-union free commercial employee insurance through the Health Benefits Plan for Producers, but according to Stand With Production members, the qualification requirements are high). The group also hopes to establish diversity and inclusion and mentorship and training programs.
“The pandemic has really shown us all the cracks in our system,” Jupiter notes. He thinks a union can teach “respect for time and being realistic about what we as humans can do with our time.”
In a statement, IATSE international president Matthew Loeb noted that many of the issues the workers hope to address are “the same ones this union has been trying to tackle through collective bargaining for decades.” He added that many pre-existing IATSE members work in commercials and that “your [Stand With Production’s] struggle is our struggle.”
Still, Cage says Stand With Production wants to maintain its members’ relationships with production companies and not engage in “controversial battles” while organizing. Some positions that Stand With Production and IATSE intend to unite, such as line producers, production supervisors and bidding producers, can be hired directly by production companies. In addition, in commercials, production workers often switch from job to job, and as a result, many of them rely on close relationships with companies throughout their careers. The Stand With Production group says they’ve consulted with some of these companies during their organization: “We understand that everyone in commercials, regardless of their position, is under attack,” said Kit Garchow, one of the founders of Stand With Production and Assistant Production Supervisor. “They are [employers] getting unreasonable requests that fall on someone else who likes us. And so what this movement does is give them a solid foundation to get those unreasonable requests back on track.”
This isn’t the first time commercial production workers have sought union coverage. A few years ago, production supervisors, assistant production supervisors and IATSE Local 871 argued in arbitration with the AICP that those roles should be included in a side letter in the Local’s commercial agreement. The workers involved were trying to solve some of the same problems that Stand With Production is now trying to address: high demands on producers, short turnaround times and low wages, says Chris Valdez, a production manager who was involved in the effort at the time. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, sources say: THR, the attempt failed, with the AICP fighting the cases brought and a dwindling number of workers supporting the cause. The side letter in question was removed from contract negotiations that took place in 2019.
Based on his previous experience trying to get cover under a union deal, Valdez was initially skeptical of the Stand With Production group. However, after meeting the organizers and learning that IATSE was backing the TV commercials, he became a supporter. This time around, the drive has “taken a great chance because it’s the last time,” he says. “If it doesn’t happen now, it never will. People are pushed to the limit… so it’s all or nothing.”