Hollywood unions shape new world of work in entertainment industry
As the new bargaining round looms in the USA entertainment industry, Philip Jennings, General Secretary of UNI Global Union and Johannes Studinger, Head of UNI Media and Entertainment Global Union met with the Hollywood based guilds, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Writers Guild of America-West (WGA-W) as well as with the IASTE West Coast office. They discussed the opportunities and challenges for entertainment workers in a new era characterised by globalization and digitalization.
The DGA, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, started with 29 film directors, who came together to protect the economic and creative rights of directors in motion pictures. Today the DGA is 16,000 strong and the world’s preeminent organisation, representing directors and members of the directorial team, including Assistant Directors, Unit Production Managers, Associate Directors, Stage Managers and Production Associates. Whether aspiring young directors or world famous directors such as Kathryn Bigelow, Steven Spielberg or Spike Lee, they come together in the DGA and devote time and effort to improve the conditions of all filmmakers.
The IASTE was as founded in 1893 by stagehands’ organisations from eleven cities who sought to support each other’s efforts to establish fair wages and working conditions for their members. The union has evolved to embrace the development of new entertainment mediums, craft expansion, technological innovation and geographic growth. Today, IATSE represents over 130,000 workers in all forms of live theatre, motion picture and television production, trade shows and exhibitions, television broadcasting, and concerts as well as the equipment and construction shops that support all these areas of the entertainment industry.
Formed in 1933 by a group of 10 screenwriters, the WGA-W has grown to 9000 members who write the content for television shows, movies, news programs, documentaries, animation, and Internet and new media. Its sister organization, the Writers Guild of America East (WGA-E) with its headquarters in New York, also a UNI affiliates, represents 4000 writers. Together they bargain with the film studios and TV networks as well as the new players of the gig economy to protect the economic and creative rights of their members. From Netflix's "House of Cards", to movies such as Academy award winner "Spotlight" or cartoon classics such as "The Simpsons", the story has been written by members of the Writers Guild of America.
“We are proud to count the entertainment unions among our leading affiliates in UNI MEI Media and Entertainment Global Union. Since the founding of UNI 16 years ago, the US guilds and unions have established strong ties with entertainment unions across the world and through their leadership and commitment, they have strengthened the voice of the global labour movement”, Jennings said.
Over the decades, the guilds and IATSE have successfully extended their representation as the industry has evolved. The collective agreements that cover talent and crew are strong and provide for good conditions. Further, the agreements affirm the creative rights of directors and writers. A very important element of the agreements for all workers in this 100 percent freelance labour market is the economic participation in the exploitation of the works. Each time employers make revenue from showing a film or a TV show again or on a different, platform (for example DVD) an agreed percentage is paid to directors, writers and crew. These payments allow for a more steady flow of income and help to finance health and pension plans.
“These agreements are very complex and offer a strong protection for creators and entertainment workers. At the same time they have contributed to the growth of creation and innovation of the world’s most important entertainment industry by providing sustainability and retaining a highly qualified and creative workforce,” Johannes Studinger, Head of UNI’s Media and Entertainment Sector underlined. The sector, which brings together 140 unions guilds from across the world, is the vehicle for the community of entertainment unions to tackle together common issues in a global and digital industry and to confront and cooperate with common employers. “Our US entertainment unions are playing a very important and leading role in the labour movement. Their high degree of representation, strong collective bargaining and ability to cover new areas of work, such as new media is an important signal to all actors in the entertainment industry and all other industries, which rely on a freelance workforce: unions and collective agreements are not only essential for fairness and social justice, they enable an industry to grow in a sustainable manner and to sustain creativity!” Studinger added.
The meetings with DGA, IATSE and the WGA-W focused on how to tackle the future world of work in the global digital economy. With new but powerful entrants such as Netflix and Amazon the US and global entertainment industries are undergoing a dramatic change, and creating a new entertainment landscape. Netflix alone is investing more than 6 Billion US dollars in new original content. “This is a game changer, altering production, distribution as well as consumption of movies and TV content. A surge of production of high quality TV series has led to more employment overall for both creatives and crew. However, new formats and modes of production also result in less average income per project for filmmakers and crew,” said Studinger
The consultation took place as the guilds of actors, directors and writers are entering and preparing for negotiations of their collective agreements, which expire in 2017. The guilds seek to successfully adapt agreements to the changes in the industry and improving conditions and pay in new areas of work. “UNI Global Union and its media and entertainment sector will stand by its affiliates in this important cycle of negotiations.” Their success is important for the global community of entertainment workers and beyond”, Jennings told US colleagues.
“In a growing gig economy world, the agreements in the US entertainment industry provide good examples of collective solutions for decent work. As we prepare for the future world of work we can learn a great deal from the guilds and unions, who engage with new players, cover new areas of work and improve conditions and pay of tens of thousands of workers by successfully extending collective agreements. Our test is to make this happen”, Jennings added.