Makeup artists, set decorators, props suppliers and other workers across Hollywood gathered outside of City Hall in Los Angeles on Thursday, pushing government officials to offer more assistance amid the actors strike.
The below-the-line workers — joined by actors, writers and directors — called for an increase to unemployment benefits, as well as for Gov. Gavin Newsom to intervene in negotiations, with the aim of pressuring the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers to stay at the bargaining table and make a deal with actors in order for them to return to work.
“We’re out here, because we felt like six months without work is something the government should pay attention to,” said Farah Bunch, a makeup artist with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 706 who helped organize the rally. “People are losing their whole livelihoods.”
The gathering started at noon just as the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA were scheduled to return to negotiations. Calls for the rally began amid a hiatus of nearly two weeks after the studios balked at a proposal by SAG-AFTRA to apply a fee to every streaming platform subscriber, distributing resulting funds to members.
Outside of City Hall, nearly 200 attendees from all corners of the entertainment industry walked back and forth alongside a barricaded entrance to the building with signs like “Stay At The Table — Film Industry Unite!,” “Extend EDD” and “Help Crew.”
Katie Baccaro, a production manager and member of the Directors Guild of America who also helped organize the event, said, “The-below-the-line workers, small businesses, vendors and caterers are all feeling largely ignored. There’s been no help from the government while citizens are in crisis.”
A petition with more nearly 25,000 signatures calling for a raise to unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the strike was sent to Newsom. Unemployment benefits in California currently maxes out at $450 per week for up to 26 weeks. With the writers strike starting in May and no end in sight to the actors strike, some workers’ benefits are set to expire or have already expired.
“You hear about the writers and actors but not the crew that haven’t been working for five to six months,” said Joshua Bryan, who works in craft services and is a member of IATSE Local 80. “I’ve been on unemployment because I didn’t know how long this would last. If I knew what I knew now, I would’ve found a job.”
Asked about a return to negotiations, Bryan stressed he’s hopeful but not optimistic. “How many times have they talked and walked away, talked and walked away? This is affecting a lot of people you don’t hear about.”
Among those people is Robert Litomisky, owner of Hollywood Clapper Boards. With business down 80 percent since May, he said he’s down from three full-time employees to just one.
“We’re a bellwether for the health of the industry,” he explained. “There have been drop-offs before, like in 2008 and COVID, but nothing like this. We’re running on fumes right now.”
Tara Stephenson-Fong, owner of Hollywood Studio Gallery who’s also a set decorator, similarly said she’s had to convert five of eight employees to part-time. Through a work share program with the state’s Employment Development Department, the workers can still receive unemployment benefits and maintain their health insurance.
According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor report, the film and TV sector lost 7,000 jobs in Sept. after losing 17,000 in August. Employment in the industry has dropped by 45,000 since May.
Several IATSE members at the rally emphasized solidarity with SAG-AFTRA. Their contract with the AMPTP is set to expire next year.
Asked about the possibility of honoring a potential IATSE picket line, SAG-AFTRA member Karis Campbell said, “Solidarity is the promise” and that “anything less than that would be indecent.” She added, “Everyone is making a sacrifice in this town. Will we have an appetite for that? Probably not but we have to fight for what’s right.”
Adam Cuthbert, a member of the Directors Guild of America, underscored, “We would support IATSE in whatever they do. They’re the skeleton of the body that is Hollywood. There’s no light to be turned on without them.”
IATSE members, should they go on strike next year, will be ineligible for unemployment insurance. In September, Newsom vetoed legislation that would have allowed striking workers to collect such benefits in a move that drew widespread criticism across Hollywood (New York and New Jersey allow this). It was among a series of anti-labor moves that includes vetoing bills that would have banned employers from taking punitive action against public employees for honoring picket lines and expanded worker’s compensation benefits for certain workers.
“Being a pro-union governor doesn’t mean you stand with us when it’s convenient,” said Jason Rabinowitz, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7, in a statement. “It means you stand with organized labor when it counts, which is when it’s time to sign pro-union legislation.”