Friday, August 01, 2008

IATSE Prez Tom Short Retires

Tom Sito's tribute to IATSE President Emeritus Tom Short.

I was in attendance at the IA Executive Board Meeting on Thursday when Thomas C. Short retired:

I am not leaving for political reasons or for health reasons, but rather because I have learned that life is short and there is a great deal that I have yet to experience and enjoy ...

Tom let IA officers and staff know some time ago that he would be packing up and moving out before his current term of office was over. His imminent departure was pretty much an open secret in and around Hollywood during the last few months.

Still in all, it's kind of amazing -- at least to me -- that a man in his fifties, at the top of his game in terms of power and salary and influence, would simply pull the plug and walk away from everything. The tradition of most IA Presidents has been to stay in office until they're dragged from the room by main force.

But Tom broke the norm late Thursday morning, when he read the letter excerpted above to a room full of friends, relatives and disbelieving union representatives. When he finished he cracked: "Just kidding," and after the laughter died down a lot of the men and women who worked with him over the years got up to say a few words of goodbye .... and thanks.

Because here's the deal: Tom Short has, during his fourteen years in office, doubled the size of the IATSE, raised wages and increased benefits (the long-tepid Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan is 85% better than when he was voted into office; the newer Individual Account Plan now has $2.2 billion in retirement money in it, with yet another percentage increase happening next Monday).

Whether you loved his manner and style or you didn't (I had some issues), it's hard to belittle or refute Mr. Short's results. I can remember when union business representative meetings at the IA West coast offices were mainly hand-wringing sessions, wondering what the organization was going to do because so much work was being done non-IA. When two big-budget features won "Best Picture" back-to-back, both without benefit of IA contracts, the despair was palpable. (Try, if you will, to visualize a pair of high-cost live-action films being done without the WGA ... or SAG ... or the DGA).

Those old realities have been replaced by a two-country union with 111,000 members in it, with national term contracts for features, television, cable, reality shows and music videos. As an IA Vice President said yesterday:

"We've now got producers coming to us for term deals, and one of them said to me, 'I've never heard of unions turning down contracts, but that's what you've been doing.' We're doing to companies what they once did to us ..."

Which isn't to say all is perfect and rosy, because all isn't. There are still battles to organize new areas of work, still fights to retain old jurisdictions. New IA President Matt Loeb will have plenty of challenges on his plate over the next few years. But Tom Short taught me the basic reality of getting better terms and conditions for people who have to work for a living:

When the blood stops flowing and the dust settles, it isn't about justice or equity or what's "fair". Multi-national conglomerates could really care less about those boring things. It's about what leverage you have to get what you want.

Maybe you've heard me mention this before. The lesson came from Tom Short.


hoopcooper said...

You know my stance on I won't repeat it. But the president of my union is Kevin Koch. End of story. I wish all the stagehands well. Somewhere there's a guy running a spotlight in a strip joint who's got a tear in his eye. But as far as I'm concerned, it's business as usual.

Anonymous said...

To Quote Axel....Evrey Rose has it's Thorn. Life IS short, and some of it you can't shake, no matter where you run, no matter what beach you lie on....May the Downey Injured Workers be Spot-Lighted in your minds forever.

HMO -Downey Injured Worker

Anonymous said...

Quoted: Tom Short escapes because he realizes life is short.
While injured workers/union members repeatedly told the property is safe by their own union. Yes, dedicated members build film sets in Downey and since then their lives have changed...they all have simular ailments such as bloody noses, memory problems, snake like scaly skin, diarrhea, choking in middle of the night yet NO one is responsible, but they were told this property is SAFE! So many lives and families effected and shortened. Yes, so many dedicated workers -not by choice, life is short!

Downey Injured Worker

Anonymous said...

I'm a pro-union guy who has no love for this thug.

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