July 26, 2010 / 5:57 AM / 9 years ago

Hollywood drivers ratify labor deal, avert strike

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The union blinked — but for the right reasons.

In a surprising reversal, Teamsters members agreed Sunday morning to the “last, best and final” offer from studios, averting a strike by Hollywood transportation workers and others.

Teamsters head Leo Reed, in a standing-room-only membership meeting in Burbank, asked the members present to vote for the deal, conceding on a major wage point in exchange for relatively minor enhancements that were achieved in backchannel negotiations Saturday afternoon.

Upon Reed’s recommendation, the union membership voted 97.3% in favor of the deal, about 840-20.

Talks between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), representing the studios and independent producers, ended Friday night with no movement and no new negotiating sessions scheduled.

“It’s a good contract,” Reed told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m very happy.”

Members at the meeting appeared happy as well, repeatedly applauding most deal points and thanking Reed and his team. Only one person, union activist Gary Watts, rose to speak against the pact.

The AMPTP also praised the deal. In a statement released Sunday afternoon, the studio organization said: “The newly ratified agreement provides solid increases in wages, benefits and work opportunities for members of the Hollywood Teamsters while recognizing the economic realities that continue to challenge the industry.”

Terms of the two-year deal include an annual 2% pay increase, which is a concession since the union wanted 3%. However, the Teamsters achieved at least three enhancements Saturday with regard to meals, medical tests and drivers licenses, and staffing of out-of-Los Angeles productions.

Those enhancements fall short of the union’s 1% concession, as union officials acknowledged during the meeting, which lasted a little more than an hour. Nonetheless, union leaders claimed those enhancements were, in essence, the tipping point. Reed acknowledged to members that the union had rejected the Friday night proposal, which did not include the three enhancements the studios offered the next day.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Mitch Masoner — who is challenging Reed in September’s union election — declared himself happy “for the Local and the industry” that union members would not have to strike but added that he was “disappointed by the concessions.” He said he did not think Reed would have gotten a strike authorization from the assembled membership.

That might have been Reed’s calculation as well. Union counsel Joe Kaplon said that a strike “was not an option” and described the leadership’s acceptance of the deal as just “good business” in today’s economy. He denied that the union blinked, but the fact remains that the leadership agreed to the 2% figure after receiving just three minor concessions.

There were larger points that Kaplon cited. These include the fact that the deal is two years (rather than three) in order to synch the contract’s expiration with IATSE’s; and increases in pension and health benefits — specifically, a 50-cent per hour increase in health plan contributions by producers, and a 13th and 14th pension check per year. However, all of these were in the Friday-night package that the union rejected.

Also in the Friday night proposal were two other enhancements cited by Kaplon, relating to new-media wages and low-budget film productions. Even accounting for all five enhancements, the value of the 1% increase foregone by the union is greater.

The union’s decision, though hard, was a smart one: the economy is difficult, the deal is good, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike and yearlong Screen Actors Guild (SAG) stalemate have taken a toll, and, perhaps critically, the union has no strike fund, according to several members who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter.

Next up for Hollywood labor are negotiations between the AMPTP and SAG/AFTRA. Those talks commence September 27. The Directors Guild of America follows in November, then the WGA, probably in early 2011. Given this agreement, those unions will find it difficult if not impossible to secure wage increases greater than the 2% per year achieved by the Teamsters.

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