And how did Kevin Koch and I start our first June weekend? Why, by attending the IATSE District Two convention in foggy San Diego...
District Two is a gathering of I.A. locals from Hawaii, California, Nevada and Arizona, meeting to advance labor's agenda (you know, things like better health care, better wages, boring things like that.)
This year the festivities got started early in the morning and lasted well into the afternoon. The high point of the morning session was IA President Tom Short outlining some of the accomplishments and challenges that entertainment unions face in the immediate and not-so-immediate future:
The rest of the convention has been organizing workshops, communication workshops, safety workshops, and the usual array of organized labor's various other issues.
* There's been an 83% injcrease in the Defined Benefit Pension Plan that covers 45,000 IATSE entertainment employees over the last twelve years.
* Basic cable is growing in viewership while broadcast networks are shrinking, and licensing fees -- which fuel the product that nourishes the t.v. industry (and labor unions that have contracts with that industry) -- are flat. This will present a problem for the teevee biz and unions that don't adapt to the changing market place.
* Because of the tensions between SAG/WGA and the movie and television producers (the AMPTP) there is already a defacto strike developing industry-wide. Short said that the IATSE isn't going to go "over the abyss" because of a couple of "irresponsible" guilds. (This is a theme he has hit on a lot of the last eighteen months...)
* Around the world: the issue of piracy is a large one. Piracy -- bootleg DVDs and illegal downloads -- cost the movie and t.v. industry $6 billion a year, $100 million of which would go into the IATSE's pension and health plans if those billions were collected. So this is an issue that affects workers, their jobs, and their pensions. Short said that he'll be going to Europe later this summer with Directors Guild officials to testify about piracy before various European governmens. He said it was important for "union members to put congress's feet to the fire on this issue."
* President Short intends to work with organizers in Eastern Europe to raise wages and generally raise the bar to "level the playing field" for entertainment workers back in the States.
* California needs a wage-tax incentives for the making of motion pictures to compete with other states that have them: "Connecticut has 17 features shooting inside its border because of tax incentives."
* Odds are (the Prez thinks) that the Democrats will pick up congressional seats in '08, as well as win the White House, although he won't venture a guess about who might win the nomination.