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Film and TV workers are on the verge of a massive strike. Here's why


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Judy Woodruff: Tens of thousands of workers ranging from costume designers to electricians and video editors are preparing for a possible strike on Monday that could stop the production of movies and TV shows nationwide.

Their union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is trying to negotiate better working conditions and a larger cut of profits from streaming productions.

Joy Press covers television for "Vanity Fair," and she has been following the story.

Joy Press, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for being here.

So, tell us a little bit more about who these employees are. What kind of work do they do?

Joy Press, "Vanity Fair": Well, the people who are involved in this action are basically the backbone of Hollywood, the invisible workers behind the scenes, so editors, set decorators, grips, cinematographers, just all of the sort of working people behind the cameras.

Judy Woodruff: And what are they asking for? I know these negotiations have been under way for a while.

Joy Press: Yes, there are two contracts that sort of ran out months ago, and they are asking for some things that I think a lot of Americans would understand.

They're looking for more rest breaks. They're look for meal breaks. Some of them work 12 to 18 hours a day seven days a week. They're looking for better fees for the lowest-paid workers. And they're also, as you said, looking for a better deal in terms of streaming platforms.

Judy Woodruff: And you were telling us, Joy, that a lot of this has come about or been, I should say, exacerbated by what they experienced during the pandemic.

Joy Press: Yes.

I mean, I think that, before the pandemic, these workers have traditionally been really tough, right? They have a really can-do attitude. Nothing's too hard for us.

And I think the pandemic, as a couple of workers said to me, was really the first time that they'd had a break in their working lives, and started to think a little bit about some of the stuff they put themselves through.

And then, when they went back to work in this new world of working 15 hours in an N95, and not being able to have lunch at all, because you can't take your mask off on set, that kind of thing, and so I think a real sense of grievance started to circulate. And they started kind of discussing that this really needed to change.

Judy Woodruff: And you were also telling us that this has to do with how the nature of television, video watching is changing, that streaming has a much -- is playing a much bigger role than it used to.

Joy Press: Yes, I mean, streaming is very different.

I think, for working people behind the scenes, the work patterns are shorter. Network television, you would have many, many episodes. Streaming, you often have a very short burst of work. So you're a gig worker going from job to job. Often, they are trying to shoot things faster, particularly now, because, during the pandemic, we all ran out of TV.

And so all the production shut down. And so all these studios and streaming platforms are trying to shoot things very, very quickly. So all of that has just exacerbated things. And, also, in terms of the way they're paid, they are not getting residuals from syndication and things like that.

Judy Woodruff: The older contract did not reflect this new phenomenon.

What -- I mean, at this point, are the big production studios, the big media conglomerates, are they inclined to try to make this -- to give them what they want?

Joy Press: Well, they're in negotiations.

I think this has been under discussion for a while. The negotiations have heated up since a huge majority of the union, IATSE, the workers union, voted to -- that they are willing to go on strike. And they now set the deadline for this coming Monday.

So, certainly, no one wants a strike. The producers, the studios don't want a strike, and the workers don't want a strike. So I imagine that they are pedaling as fast as they can to find something that they can live with.

Judy Woodruff: And if they do end up going on strike, what does it mean for consumers?

Joy Press: It's a huge disruption.

I mean, no one that I talked to could soft-pedal it. This is 60,000 workers from this union. And they are behind the vast majority of TV shows and movies. They will shut down. And other unions are very much in sympathy with them, Hollywood's other unions.

And they all have contract negotiations coming up, the actors union, SAG, the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild. So I think it would be -- we'd be missing some of our favorite shows for quite a while.

Judy Woodruff: Potentially big impact.

Joy Press: A big impact.

Judy Woodruff: For sure.

Joy Press with "Vanity Fair," thank you so much.

Joy Press: Thanks for having me.

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