July 21, 2010 / 4:48 AM / in 7 years

Hollywood braced for Teamsters walkout

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Television would be hit hardest if Hollywood transportation workers go on strike for the first time in 22 years next month when their current labor agreement expires, according to industry observers.

Upward of 20 shows are in production ahead of the fall television season, and production executives are puzzling over ways of getting actors and others on and off their lots without crossing picket lines.

“If (a strike) were to happen, it would be hugely unfortunate,” said Ed Bernero, executive producer on the CBS series “Criminal Minds.”

It’s possible the Teamsters would agree to work under a contract extension even if their pact expires August 1 without a new agreement in place, but the union’s Hollywood Local 399 is expected to take a strike-authorization vote during a general membership meeting on Sunday morning.

That would arm Local leaders with the ability to walk at any point after the midnight expiration of the Local’s current “Black Book” agreement a week from Saturday.

The transportation union’s talks with Hollywood studios involve proposals for a new two- or three-year contract but have hit an impasse over money terms. The Teamsters want annual raises of 3%; management is offering 2% yearly boosts. The studios would prefer a three-year deal but are offering two years at the union’s request, which would allow the Teamsters to synch up their contract expiration with the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees. That, in turn, would give the Teamsters more input into contract matters affecting the pension and health plan that covers members of both unions.

Negotiators for the union and employers remain in touch this week ahead of the next formal bargaining session, set for Friday morning, and another session could be scheduled for next week. An additional session would seem only natural, as a successful strike-authorization vote would enhance the union’s hand at the bargaining table, and management appears inclined to agree to continued talks.

The contract negotiations started June 14, and the parties’ failure to agree on terms has prompted handicapping around town of the chances of a Teamsters strike.

“I would be surprised if there were a strike, but there are some other people here who disagree with me,” an exec on one lot said. “The water-cooler talk is that if there is a strike, it won’t be pretty -- not necessarily in terms of length or financial impact, but in terms of tone, this could be worse than the writers’ strike.”

The 100-day Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike of 2007-08 had TV networks scrambling to fill programing grids with extra reality fare after the scripted well ran dry. There was no immediate evidence of those sorts of contingencies, but some disruptions of film and TV productions are inevitable if the Teamsters go out.

“Like all writers, I‘m grateful for the solidarity the Teamsters showed us during the WGA strike,” said Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of AMC’s “Mad Men.” “I think they know they can count on me to support them in any way I can.”

On-location shoots are particularly vulnerable to disruption, but projects are being pushed forward. At least a dozen movies are listed for shooting in August, and some -- such as the New Line comedy “Horrible Bosses” -- already are shooting in the L.A. area.

Even executives with productions housed in soundstages have to figure out how to get actors on and off lots. Studio executives are reviewing infrastructure maps to identify discreet entrances less likely to draw pickets.

Some lot disruptions would fall into the category of annoying inconvenience. For instance, studio commissaries’ daily shipments of food and beverages could be halted if delivery drivers honor the union’s pickets, and creative means of obtaining office supplies might become necessary.

Other Hollywood guilds are prohibited from staging sympathy strikes. But the Screen Actors Guild or others could make statements suggesting members follow their consciences in deciding whether to report to work. “We’ll honor our contracts and support our union brothers and sisters as much as possible,” one actor observed this week.

Hollywood Teamsters worked more than two months after the expiration of its contract with studios in 1988 before mounting a 25-day work stoppage, the Local’s last full-fledged strike. If a new strike breaks out, studios also can be expected to boost lot security and may hire some new staff where necessary to replace workers refusing to cross picket lines.

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