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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hollywood Teamsters show their pride ahead of contract negotiations

People walk along with the Teamsters Local 399 float during the Los Angeles Pride Parade on Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Los Angeles. Teamsters Local 399 is the labor union representing Hollywood drivers, animal trainers, location scouts and other crew members.    (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
By Christi Carras Los Angeles Times

The Hollywood Teamsters float at L.A. Pride was upholstered with sparkly blue fabric provided by a location manager who has worked on Peacock’s “Bel-Air” and Netflix’s “The Politician.”

The giant bubble letters were layered by a construction coordinator on Freeform’s “Good Trouble.” The horse heads were turned to gold by painters whose resumes include “Jerry Maguire” and “The Big Lebowski.” The rainbow jewels came directly from the set of Lionsgate’s upcoming Michael Jackson biopic.

Roughly one month after the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, the largest union representing Hollywood crew members, entered general contract negotiations with the major studios, a smaller coalition of below-the-line workers is stepping into the spotlight. And dozens of them took to the streets of Hollywood over the weekend to build LGBTQ+ and crew member solidarity ahead of their next round of bargaining.

“As far as you can see, there are people here who support equality, and that’s why we’re here,” said Chris Fuentes, a location manager and president of the Teamsters Local 399 LGBTQ+ caucus. “In the end, it’s about equality and respect. We have to respect these workers and pay them what they’re worth.”

Teamsters Local 399 is part of the Hollywood Basic Crafts, which is scheduled to begin main contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on Monday.

Union members are seeking wage increases, pension and health benefits, higher streaming residuals and protections against artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles for some 7,600 crew members — including animal trainers, casting directors, drivers, location managers, mechanics, cement masons and plumbers — employed on film and TV sets.

In addition to Teamsters Local 399, the union side (known collectively as the Hollywood Basic Crafts) comprises the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 40, Laborers International Union of North America Local 724, United Assn. Plumbers Local 78 and the Operating Plasterers and Cement Masons International Assn. Local 755.

The studio side represents Amazon MGM, Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros. Discovery and other companies. The AMPTP declined to comment for this story.

In early March, Teamsters Local 399 and the Hollywood Basic Crafts joined forces with IATSE to negotiate updates to their shared pension and health plan jointly for the first time in 36 years. Efforts to reach an agreement on that package are ongoing; pension and health benefits remain a sticking point in IATSE negotiations.

Now, the Hollywood Teamsters and Basic Crafts are back to bargain simultaneously for six contracts covering different groupings of crew members. The current below-the-line agreements are set to expire July 31.

The pressure to secure substantial financial gains is high in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hollywood strikes of 2023 and an ongoing industry contraction — all of which have reduced employment opportunities for entertainment workers in recent years. According to Lindsay Dougherty, principal officer and chief negotiator of Teamsters Local 399, wage increases are a priority for the union even more than in past contract negotiations, “coming off of years of financial distress.”

“When I first got into this business 22 years ago, you could be a location manager, and your significant other could stay home. It was that good of a job,” said Jason McCauley, a location manager whose credits include HBO’s “Westworld” and Warner Bros.’ “Joker: Folie à Deux.” “These days, I can barely pay our bills working 60 hours a week or more.”

Safety and the hazards of working marathon shifts that can last 20-plus hours are also issues the unions are hoping to address, mainly by setting compensation standards that would deter employers from requiring crews to work overtime.

“If there are productions out there that are working our members with excessive hours … they should know that they’re going to have to pay to play,” Dougherty said. “They will not film as many hours if they know it’s going to cost them more money.”

Fears of another Hollywood walkout have softened somewhat as IATSE negotiations have transpired largely without incident. Dougherty joked that in a perfect world, the AMPTP would agree to all of the Hollywood Teamsters and Basic Crafts proposals, yielding a resolution Monday.

But the unions are prepared to bargain down to the wire if necessary.

“We went on strike one time in our history with these companies, and that was in 1988, so it’s possible to … bargain without having to strike,” Dougherty said. “It’s gonna take as long as it needs to.”