January 28, 2005

Casters Confronting 'No Strike' Demand?

1/26 Backstage

Casters Confronting ‘No Strike’ Demand?

By Roger Armbrust
 The nation’s casting directors — seeking to form a union affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — say they are now seeing “no strike” clauses in individual contracts with film studios. But a spokesperson for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) questions why studios would do that for independent contractors, which is how the producers classify casting directors.

The steering committee for the casting directors’ organizing effort on Monday sent out an e-mail to casters stating, “Recently the studios have been adding ‘No Strike Clause’ language to our contracts. The Teamster lawyers have told us to cross out that language and then sign your contracts. We must all be firm about this. If everyone does it they can’t make it stick.”

No-strike clauses most commonly appear in collective bargaining agreements. Such clauses are basically a union pledge not to strike or to engage in work slowdowns or job actions during the life of the contract. According to the website for U.S. Legal Forms, a union often agrees to such a clause in exchange for a grievance arbitration provision. Union members could be fired for going on strike and breaking the no-strike clause.

There are occasions, however, when union members can break a no-strike clause — for example, walking off the job if the employer fails to provide promised benefits.

A lack of benefits has been the driving force behind the casting directors’ desire to organize. The Teamsters union is strongly supporting the casters’ effort. At press time Tuesday, the two groups planned to stay on schedule with a Wednesday press conference to state the casting directors’ intent to walk off the job if the AMPTP maintains its refusal to bargain on a first-time pact with the casters.

Steve Dayan, a business agent with the Teamsters’ Local 399 in Los Angeles, who has worked with casting directors on both coasts, indicated to Back Stage on Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised by the studios’ no-strike-clause effort.

“Obviously, the studios are doing their job,” Dayan commented. “They’re putting pressure on the casting directors. We fully expected that. They’re doing their job and we’re going to do our job. I think we’re both dealing with the issues as they come up.”

Dayan noted that the steering committee’s message wasn’t exactly accurate. He said that Teamsters lawyers had not advised the casting directors on the studios’ no-strike clause, but that he was the one who had counseled the casters: “I basically told the casting directors like I tell the location managers: If there’s something in your deal memorandum that you don’t want in there, cross it out.”

But Barbara Brogliatti, a spokesperson for the AMPTP, said at press time Tuesday, “The casting directors are independent contractors, and I’m sure every one of the contracts is different. I can’t speak on behalf of every single studio. That’s not what we do. You need to get a lawyer.”

She added that she didn’t see a need for the no-strike clause in an individual contract since it is meant for a collective bargaining agreement. If casting directors, as independent contractors, don’t show up for a job, it’s a breach of contract, Brogliatti said.

Brogliatti also emphasized that, a week ago, the AMPTP had offered casting directors health and pension benefits, but the casters turned down the offer. (See Back Stage’s lead story in the Jan. 20 issue, “Casters Say ‘Nay’ To AMPTP Offer.”)

Back Stage re-contacted the Teamsters’ Dayan, who continued to insist that the studios were including the no-strike clause in casting directors’ pacts.

Dayan refused to comment on specifics regarding the scheduled Wednesday press conference. He would say only that it was partially to allow other unions to maintain a show of solidarity with the casting directors. The nation’s major actors’ unions — the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and Actors’ Equity Association — all have endorsed the casting directors’ efforts to organize. So have the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America. In fact, the e-mail from the casting directors’ steering committee stated that the Wednesday press conference would take place at the Writers Guild in Los Angeles at 10 am PST Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the casting directors and the Teamsters union are running ads in industry trade papers listing celebrities who support the casters’ efforts, with emphasis on health and pension benefits. The celebrity names include Tim Allen, Woody Allen, Drew Barrymore, Warren Beatty, George Clooney, and on down the alphabet to Denzel Washington and Reese Witherspoon

Posted by Clint at January 28, 2005 12:07 AM