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  • Writer's pictureJack McAllister

Crisis Averted? Stagehands Union and Studios avert strike, two tiered system prevails

Voracious content consumers can breathe a sigh of relief. Film and television studios have come to an agreement with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) to avoid a strike. Yes, that means that new season of that show you binge the moment it comes out is still on schedule.

Traditional media have covered this compromise as a victory for the some 60,000 IATSE members and studios alike. The union members' demands of more consistent hours, better pay and more consistent breaks have apparently been met, although details of the deal are still forthcoming. The studios avoided not only a PR disaster, but a financial one as well, with the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars being lost by strike-shuttered sets.

“I couldn’t join the union even if I wanted to,” said Benjamin Perelzstein, a production assistant currently working for an Amazon production under the title Larry’s Diner.

There is stark contrast between members and non members who often share the same sets. The almost uncountable number of production assistants across film and TV sets are both not eligible to join the union, and, according to Perelsztein, too grossly underpaid to join even if they wanted.

Nothing has, or will change for those employees, according to Perelzstein, who is still working twelve hour days, five days a week, as an independent contractor. Because of their status as daily contractors, production assistants for Amazon studios are not paid overtime. They receive their schedules the night before reporting to set, sometimes with as little as four hours notice.

According to Deadline, the wage increases for the lowest paid union members will lead to an hourly rate of $26 an hour by the third year of the agreement. Production Assistants, most of whom make minimum wage, have been told they will see no such similar increase.

Production assistants do not have clear-cut job descriptions, they are on set to do everything and anything asked of them to keep the production running smoothly. Moving equipment, checking COVID tests and vaccine cards and setting up or striking the sets are just a few of the duties a single PA might encounter in the same day.

“If we were to even try to unionize they’d just find other people,” said Perelzstein alluding to the overabundance of candidates and relative lack of positions for entry level film jobs. “The studios hold all the cards."

Consistent PA work may never lead to a more specialized role, be it in lighting, sound, camera work or any other of the unionized jobs on set. There is no promise that a dedicated and talented PA will be able to elevate from their position.

At the mercy of studios hell-bent on churning out more content and generating more revenue, PA’s are the forgotten men and women of the recent conflict between labor and capital.

On Friday, October 15, in anticipation of the strike, a team of nonunion production assistants struck the Larry’s Diner set, working into the night long after their unionized coworkers went home. On Saturday, the IATSE announced the strike was averted. Those same PAs were called back Monday morning at 5:00 am to rebuild the set. Union members arrived at 8:00.

At least they get free lunch.

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