1980s – present: In contract negotiations, IATSE rank-and-file are like boiled frogs…resulting in contracts that are “family killers.”

With regard to union member passivity, one person I interviewed referred to what he calls the problem of boiling frogs.  [Name withheld pending interviewee approval] always worked before the runaway production took off, “The jobs were there.  We were in demand.  It was a wonderful business to be in, ten to twenty years ago.”  Most IATSE members didn’t pay attention during that time, as, slowly and methodically, their leadership gave away benefits at the bargaining table.  [Interviewee] says, “We were kind of like boiled frogs… If you take a frog and stick it in some lukewarm water, he’ll be happy.  You turn it up a degree, and you turn it up a degree, and if you do it slowly enough, the frog’s not going to realize it’s being boiled until it’s too late.”  [Interviewee’s] report of this “frogboiling” is significant because it is an incremental process (and as such it is never reported in the newspapers), yet it has enormous costs. 

During the second phase of runaway production, although the IATSE leadership did not need to do so, they conceded valuable bargaining points.  In 1988, as was mentioned, before Tom Short became president, President Di Tolla “gave away weekends.”  Weekends were no longer Saturday and Sunday.  IATSE members worked any five days out of seven, which means a film worker might start on a Friday and work until Tuesday. [Interviewee] refers to that as a “family killer,” because all of a sudden, film workers now were on a totally different schedule from their spouses and kids.  Getting work meant they never saw their families.  According to [Interviewee]and others I interviewed, that destroyed many relationships and a lot of families.[1]  When union leadership gave that away, the rank-and-file didn’t know it at that time, because none of them were deeply involved in the negotiations. “We just read the Variety, and like clockwork, every three years, yet another contract was signed.”  They did not get a copy of the basic agreement before it was signed.  They were not consulted in a meaningful way about the desired outcome of negotiations.  And finally they received a copy about a year after it went into effect.

[1] This is consistent with the general findings of sociologists about work, “The way in which a man makes a living and the kind of living he makes have important consequences for how the man sees himself and is seen by others; and these, in turn, importantly shape his relationships with family members, lovers, friends, and neighbors (Liebow 1967:136).”

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