600’s Member Orientation Gets a Makeover

March 31, 2021
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Local 600’s member orientation has undergone an overhaul.

Thanks to extensive work across a number of the Guild’s departments, what was once little more than a swearing in ceremony and a few words about on-set etiquette has turned into a comprehensive introduction to the Local, its place in the IATSE and the greater national labor movement.

The orientation grew out of both the development of an On-Set Steward Training spearheaded by Second National Vice President Baird Steptoe and requests from young worker activists to educate newer members about the organization they will one day inherit.

Attendees of the orientation – conducted via Zoom – now get a 360-degree view of many of the programs and benefits that come with Guild membership. They also leave with a better understanding of how unionism protects workers and what is expected of them as members who pledge to have other members’ backs.

“We want new members to understand that they need to be involved,” said Western Region Director Alex Tonisson who led the first session of the newly unveiled orientation on February 21. “The labor movement has been under attack for 40 years and unionism has been declining. Local 600 has bucked that trend; we have increased our membership and grown stronger. That has happened because we have worked hard to build union power and activate and mobilize the membership.”

A slide on the Local 600 Safety App from the New Member Orientation presentation.

With the industry largely shut down in 2020 due to COVID-19, Local 600 staff took advantage of the quiet time to work on its On Set Steward Training Program. Members of the On Set Steward Training Committee identified two modules – one discussing the history of the labor movement and the other, the structure of Local 600 –  as being a key resource not just for future stewards, but for all members.

“I think a lot of members who have joined in the past have learned things about the union anecdotally, but they’re not sure where to look to get the right information or who to contact or how things run,” said Tonisson. “This orientation gives members a good picture about what a union is, who Local 600 is, and all the information that you might not know if you have never been a member of a labor union.”

As the on-set steward training continued to develop, the orientation began to expand and evolve as well. Local 600 staff – including Western Region Business Rep Evangelina Nevarez and Assistant Western Region Director Xiomara Comrie – and members from across the region gave input, and new sections were added that focused on such topics as safety, training and inclusion. Local 600 ran a test version of the orientation in October of 2020, collected more feedback, implemented additional changes, and launched the first full orientation in February of this year with more than 110 people in attendance.

The two-hour session included a welcome from National President John Lindley, and presentations by Second National Vice President Baird Steptoe, National Training Coordinator Richard Negri and Safety Committee Chair Dave Chameides. The hope is to eventually offer a 90-minute orientation on a regular basis. Conducting the orientation virtually also gives more members who don’t live in cities with regional offices the chance to attend.

A slide on the benefits of union membership from the New Member Orientation presentation.

Steptoe, who also chairs the On Set Steward Training Committee, called the first orientation a huge success.

“Alex’s presentation was incredible. People were attentive and engaged. After every session they could ask questions, which I think everyone appreciated,” said Steptoe. “I wish this could be a requirement for all members. Hopefully this is what all members will be exposed to so they know what being in the union means and what this union is about.”

Several of the new members who attended praised the experience as well. Although he hoped that circumstances will eventually allow members to gather in person, Graham Sheldon – a member since December – felt the orientation was a good introduction.

“There was a little bit of hesitancy for me as a new member to know what sort of an organization I was getting into. This orientation did a lot to alleviate those worries,” said Sheldon, a Western Region Director of Photography. “All of the people I look up to on the cinematography side are members. That translates to, ‘What does this mean as a new member on a day-to-day basis?’ especially around organizing and political action,” he said. “That was especially interesting to me.”

“The orientation was right on point,” agreed Alvaro Robles, a DIT who joined Local 600 in November. “There were a lot of things I would like to get into more deeply, but I think for a first contact, first approach, it was perfect.”

The next Orientation is tentatively scheduled for May 2021.

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