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Mon., Feb. 20, 2006

IATSE faces lenser opposition over pact
Ballots are due back March 7


A BITTER BATTLE HAS emerged over the ratification of IATSE's contract covering 35,000 below-the-line employees at 18 West Coast locals. Ballots went out over the weekend, accompanied by a three-page cover letter from Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees president Tom Short, who touted the advances in the three-year Hollywood Basic Agreement and warned that a rejection would lead to a strike -- even though the current contract doesn't expire until August. Ballots are due back March 7.

But leaders of one of the most powerful locals, the Intl. Cinematographers Guild, have recommended rejection, mostly due to the new pact's elimination of a requirement that a camera operator be hired for union shoots.

Last unanimous "no" vote by the ICG board, which operates as IATSE Local 600 in repping 5,700 camera crew members and publicists, has helped fuel opposition, as opponents contend show business isn't in financial trouble, with complaints over proposed wage increases not keeping pace with inflation and hikes in health plan co-pays.

Opponents have scheduled a noon rally for Saturday at Crespi High School in Encino.

Nearly all of Short's letter to members highlights gains such as hikes of 75 per hour in minimum rates in the first year, followed by 3% hikes in the second and third years; a 25-per-hour hike in pension and health plan contributions; gains in jurisdiction over foley artists, marine, base camp and balloon lighting; a hike in meal penalties; and inclusion of direct-to-DVD productions.

Short hasn't responded to questions as to the possibilities of resuming negotiations with five months left under the current pact or extending the current contract beyond the Aug. 1 expiration date. But the IATSE leader, who's headed the union since 1994, would suffer a blow to his status should IATSE members spurn his recommendation.

Vote's also being closely watched by companies and by Hollywood labor as an indication of militancy among rank-and-file members -- particularly given last fall's voting by Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild of America members to install more aggressive leaders. SAG's commercials contract expires in October, and the WGA's film-TV pact runs out in October 2007.

The Hollywood Basic Agreement has never been rejected at the ratification stage. IATSE negotiators had reached the accord in December with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, reflecting Short's advocacy of reaching agreements long before contracts expire in the belief that employers are more likely to include the best possible terms at that point in exchange for stability.

Besides the ICG, no other local exec board formally opposed ratification.

IATSE's current deal was ratified in January 2003 by a four-to-one margin. That contract increased hourly contributions to the pension and health plans for the first time in 20 years and maintained the qualification and benefit structure of the health plan; key salary terms called for a 50-per-hour increase in the first year, followed by a 2.5% rise in the second and 3% in the third.

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