January 28, 2005

Casting directors threaten to strike

Hollywood Reporter
Jan. 27, 2005

Casting directors threaten to strike

By Jesse Hiestand
Hollywood’s casting directors threatened Wednesday to walk off the job early next week if they are not allowed to organize under the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The absence of the 500 casting directors would affect pilot season casting but, most significantly, keep truck drivers, location managers and other members of Teamsters Local 399 in Los Angeles and Local 817 in New York from crossing the picket lines. That immediately could disrupt feature film and television production, giving union organizers some leverage in trying to force the hand of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

The warning was conveyed to about 300 casting directors, location managers and actors during a rally at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills. Teamsters vp Jim Santangelo drew a standing ovation when he relayed a message from Teamsters president James P. Hoffa in Washington.

“Whatever the cost, you will bring those people into our union — that’s what he said to me,” said Santangelo, directing his wrath at the studios and networks that negotiate through the AMPTP. “These people on Mahogany Row, who want to dictate and call all the shots, who say you are individual (contractors), I say kiss my ass. If we stick together, we will kick their ass. Believe me when I tell you about that.”
AMPTP president and chief negotiator Nick Counter said the Teamsters run the risk of breaching the “no strike” clause of their contract, which limits work actions to disputes with the AMPTP.

“If the Teamsters engage in any job action, it would be in violation of their contract with the AMPTP, and we will take all steps necessary to remedy that violation,” Counter said.

That remedy could take the form of lawsuits to recoup lost production expenses. The pilot season is only now getting under way as the broadcast networks finalize their pilot orders for the upcoming season.

A job action involving the casters would be the first labor action in Hollywood since actors went out for six months in 2000 over their commercials contract. It also would be perhaps the first job action over organizing since the 1940s.

The Teamsters most recently went on strike in 1988, a monthlong walkout that led to the hiring of replacement drivers.

The two sides are next set to meet Tuesday. The casting directors say they will begin a work stoppage shortly afterward if they do not get what they want.

The casting directors insist they are employees who should be allowed to collectively bargain in the same way as directors, writers, actors and most other production professionals.

AMPTP maintains that the casters are not legally entitled to unionize because they are independent contractors who additionally make employment decisions.

Industry officials say they are sympathetic to the desire for benefits and recently tried to defuse the situation by offering health and pension benefits, mostly likely under the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans. Similar benefits already are offered to other nonunion workers, including producers and production accountants.

The casters rejected that offer because they reportedly want full union rights, including guarantees regarding minimum wages and working conditions.

“We’ll do what we have to do to get the job done,” Local 399 secretary-treasurer Leo Reed told the rally Wednesday. “All I’m saying to the heads of the studios is show me that you are reasonable, show me that you care.”

Added Local 399 business agent Steve Dayan, “We’re here to urge the AMPTP to recognize this deserving group of people without forcing the casting directors into a potential work stoppage.”

Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said the threat of a Teamsters strike should not be taken lightly.

“Not only are they large, but they’re known for their fight — they don’t back down,” Contreras said. “Labor’s going to fight so everyone gets the respect they deserve as working men and women.”

AFTRA national president John Connolly said that the casting directors already had gotten a taste of the picket line by marching last year in support of striking supermarket workers in Los Angeles.

SAG, DGA and WGA also have “no strike” clauses that prevent them from joining in any work stoppage. Still, those unions have expressed their support, with DGA president Michael Apted noting recently, “This is a simple matter of fairness.”

Other expressing sympathy for the casters include Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and dozens of high-profile actors, writers and directors from Tim Allen and George Clooney to Taylor Hackford, Martin Scorsese and Joe Roth.

“It’s unbelievable that in 2005, they still do not have health benefits or pension,” Scorsese said in a statement.

Efforts to have some of those notable artists show up at Wednesday’s rally fell a little short, but actors Marcia Gay Harden and Janel Moloney did voice their support.

“It seems that the fear is that one more person on the boat might sink it, but I think our industry is great enough to be inclusive, to be idealistic enough to realize it’s the right thing to do,” Harden said.

Casting associate Jen Lansky said after the rally: “It would be wonderful to have health insurance. When I go to the doctor now, I pay cash.”

Legendary casting director Mike Fenton, a founder and former president of the Casting Society of America, said he was primarily concerned for young members who have not yet found the success to get by without benefits. He noted, though, that casting directors had personally defeated two previous attempts to unionize.

“This time it’s going to happen because the Teamsters believe and our younger members believe in the union of our strength,” Fenton said.

Posted by Clint at January 28, 2005 12:09 AM

damn the man! i will bring hot chocolate and hot totties to all you pour souls picketing in this 5 degree weather - i promise. :)

Posted by: adrienne on January 28, 2005 11:45 AM

damn the man! i will bring hot chocolate and hot totties to all you pour souls picketing in this 5 degree weather - i promise. :)

Posted by: adrienne on January 28, 2005 11:45 AM


Posted by: tom marchetti on January 29, 2005 09:12 PM

seriously! We wouldn't have gotten nearly this far without their support. This is something that the casting directors have been trying to get for years and this is the first time we've had anyone in our corner fighting with us. We really owe them a lot.

Posted by: Clint on January 30, 2005 11:18 AM

the stuios won't allow this just see what happens. there is zero respect for casting there...

Posted by: zip on February 1, 2005 11:31 AM

It's not a matter of respect. It's a matter of putting them in a position where they have no choice but to give us what we want - and what we want is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that they will eventually give in rather than lose the 150K-175K/day that they would lose if they were shut down. The international Brotherhood of Teamsters is huge and their promise to not cross our picket lines if this whole ordeal comes to a strike will bring the industry to a halt, undoubtedly. The last time the teamsters struck in '88, they studios tried to hire scabs to drive the trucks and those people were promptly thrown out of the union and their names are still read at every union meeting to this day. We will prevail, despite the studios' best efforts to dissuade us.

Posted by: Clint on February 1, 2005 08:56 PM

that's 150K-175K per day per show.

Posted by: Clint on February 1, 2005 08:57 PM