Sunday, March 26, 2006

The No-Strike Clause

People frequently ask about the 'no-strike clause' in our contract with the producers, usually wondering "How can we have any real clout if we've given up the right to strike?" There it is in Article 51, part J. of our contract: The Union agrees during the existence of this Agreement, unless the Producer fails to comply with an arbitration award, not to strike against, picket or boycott the Producer . . . The Producers agrees not to engage in any lockout . . . And there's the rub -- during the existence of this Agreement. A 'no-strike, no-lockout clause' is in every union contract, including those of SAG and the WGA. Strikes happen (as our last ones did in 1979 and 1982) when a contract is expired, and negotiations are deadlocked. So the question becomes, "If we have the same ability to strike, why don't we at least threaten it when we're in negotiations, the way a couple of other Hollywood unions regularly do?" As I write this, SAG's Basic Cable Agreement is expired, and they're voting to authorize a strike.* I look at strikes as labor's nuclear option. If you engage in nuclear war with a well-prepared opponent, you know both sides will take terrible casualties -- you just hope the other guy will get hurt worse, or will yield to your threat to go nuclear. The problem is that, in today's entertainment world, the 'other guys' (the studios) are small parts of huge conglomerates, and they can weather an entertainment strike far, far more easily than even the most powerful guild can. Hence the IATSE's choice to eschew brinkmanship and strike threats, and to negotiate early. The idea is that the early bird gets the worm, because the producers want to set the pattern that early, cooperative negotiations are more productive. And, frankly, when we look at how little has been accomplished by the recent strikes and threatened strikes in Hollywood, I think that's clearly been the case. *Fortunately, SAG has a separate cable animation contract, which is reportedly "far closer to resolution that the basic cable deal." Addendum (4/28/06): Per the LATimes, SAG's membership has indeed voted for the strike authorization. Stay tuned for further developments.


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