OCTOBER 26, 2021




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

Tentative IATSE Agreement Includes a DEI Commitment

Will it hold? Is it Enough?

When International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) President Matt Loeb announced on Oct. 18, that a tentative agreement had been reached with Hollywood producers, averting the anticipated strike, many in the industry cheered. I was one of them. As details about the tentative agreement have come out, however, some argue that it doesn’t go far enough. Last week’s tragic shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins (while on location filming Rust) has many now asking whether she and all the other workers would have been better off carrying out their strike. 

I’m not an IATSE member nor have I ever belonged to a labor union. But my mother was an active member of her teacher’s union. So I grew up with the understanding that a labor union’s primary job is to protect workers’ right to fair wages and treatment. I haven’t seen IATSE’s tentative agreement, so I’m in no position to gauge how well it responds to the workers’ grievances. But I am very interested in the section of the agreement that addresses diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). I’m interested, because the filmmakers BPM supports depend on skilled below-the-line crews to help bring their visions to fruition. And too often, we hear that the pool of available Black talent is remarkably shallow.

Women of Color Unite (WOCU) recently conducted a survey of its members and found that of the 1,800 who participated, only 10.12 percent said they belong to a labor union. Moreover, only 1.89 percent belong to a guild, trade association or similar association. This tells me that the odds of BIPOC women in the industry being paid well, treated well and accorded decent employment benefits are even less favorable than those of their disgruntled IATSE member peers. Which means the chances of them being able to build a stable, healthy career in the industry are slim. 

cheryl Belford_WOCunite-300x300
Cheryl L Belford, Founder
Women of Color Unite

Photo courtesy of WOCU

Granted, WOCU only represents BIPOC women in the industry, but I doubt the representation of BIPOC men, relative to their peers, is significantly better. As I noted in a recent Weekly Dispatch, the film and television industry has a long, sad history of treating its workers poorly. Its labor unions’ history of excluding and devaluing BIPOC talent is no better. 

The IATSE agreement provides an opportunity to begin addressing these issues. I’ve read that the union recently created a 30-member DEI committee and has retained Right Size Media to help it chart a new path. Let’s hope this commitment to DEI does not weaken as the contract wrangling continues. 

The media industry provides employment opportunities for millions of workers across the globe. Recent DEI efforts to get more BIPOC faces in front of the camera are beginning to bear fruit. But those jobs are outnumbered many times over by the below-the-line positions. We need equity and inclusion there as well. The result will not only be higher quality media productions, but less unemployment and greater worker satisfaction in BIPOC communities.

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