Guilds and Unions


Some of the biggest headaches facing Hollywood unions and guilds are the proliferation of nonunion production, the relocation of production sites all over the country and the world (runaway production), and the growing strength of the entertainment conglomerates that own the Hollywood majors.

The issue of nonunion production begins in the film capital itself. While film and television production around Los Angeles seems to ebb and flow depending upon a number of different factors, there has been an increase in the amount of nonunion production in Hollywood. For instance, only 40 percent of the permits issued by the City of Los Angeles for film work in January 1989 were for unionized productions. However, more recently, IATSE claimed that less than one-third of the films released in the United States are made with union labor. Not only is nonunion labor typically considered less costly, but the established entertainment unions often are perceived as uncooperative and too demanding. It might be noted that independent productions sometimes try to avoid union labor, however, most of the larger and more successful independent companies still work with the unions due to their continuing role in the overall industrial process of Hollywood.

Runaway production has been an ongoing problem for Hollywood labor unions and guilds. The lure of lower budgets with nonunion workers has attracted producers to right-to-work states, such as Florida, as well as other states that have recognized film and television production as a boost to local economies. Meanwhile, foreign locations, such as Eastern Europe and parts of the Third World, offer low budgets and exotic locations. Most recently, Canada has lured film and television production away from Hollywood with offers of trained workers, tax breaks, and a favorable exchange rate. Pressure from the availability of a nonunion option and runaway production has forced the unions to make concessions during contract negotiations, as well as to push for government remedies.

Both of these situations can be explained by film companies' attempt to lower labor cost, in addition to the ready supply of nonunion workers, both in Hollywood and other locations. The abundance of available labor also may be related to the popularity of media in general. The growth of media education at universities and colleges, as well as the increased visibility of film and television production in the popular press, means that there is a glut of eager workers for Hollywood companies to employ, very often without union affiliation. Hollywood also seems to have a fantasy quality, as even "regular" work in the film industry seems glamorous.

While studios try to blame unreasonable union demands for the increase of nonunion production and the flight to nonunion locations, labor leaders (especially from below-the-line unions) claim that they are not the problem. Rather, they point to the skyrocketing costs of above-the-line talent, with especially high salaries going to high-profile actors and actresses. Some union officials point out that film costs will not come down unless studios control above-the-line costs, especially the huge salaries of some stars. The lack of unity among entertainment unions also has been blamed for the growth of nonunion filming. Some of the mergers mentioned previously may help to alleviate this problem, yet the organization of labor along craft lines still exacerbates the situation.

While Hollywood companies have become more diversified, union representation also has followed. The different types of businesses incorporated by Hollywood companies have involved further differentiation of labor, making it difficult for workers to form a united front against one corporation. For instance, workers employed by Disney include animators at the Disney Studio, hockey players on Disney's hockey team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and Jungle Cruise operators at Disney's various theme parks. The differentiation of labor is especially apparent at the theme parks owned by many Hollywood companies, in particular Disney, Universal, Paramount, and Time Warner. Workers at these sites are represented by a wide array of labor organizations, many of which are unrelated to those unions active in the film industry.

Generally, then, the trend toward diversification has contributed to a weakening of trade unions' power as well as a further lack of unity among workers. More than one observer has noted that in the twenty-first century films are produced and distributed by conglomerates that own businesses outside of entertainment. Thus, if film production is halted because of labor problems, the conglomerate's income may slow a bit, but it can still survive with money from other sources.

So the pressures are mounting on labor organizations in the entertainment field. Hollywood unions and guilds have faced difficult struggles in the past, combating a range of problems from difficulty of gaining union recognition in the 1930s to ideological assaults such as the blacklisting period of the 1940s and 1950s. They continue to face further challenges from antiunion sentiments, nonunion workers, and runaway production, as well as power struggles with diversified corporations actively involved in international markets.

SEE ALSO Credits ; Crew ; Direction ; Production Process ; Screenwriting ; Studio System

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Hartsough, Denise. "Crime Pays: The Studios' Labor Deals in the 1930s." In The Studio System , edited by Janet Staiger. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989.

Koenig, Allen E., ed. Broadcasting and Bargaining: Labor Relations in Radio and Television . Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970.

Prindle, David F. The Politics of Glamour: Ideology and Democracy in the Screen Actors Guild . Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

Miller, Toby, Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell. Global Hollywood . London: British Film Institute, 2001.

Wasko, Janet. "Challenges to Hollywood's Labor Force in the 1990s." In Global Productions: Labor in the Making of the "Information Society" , edited by Gerald Sussman and John A. Lent, 173–189. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1998.

——. How Hollywood Works . London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004.

Janet Wasko

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