He may have a new title and some new duties, but John Amman’s commitment and dedication to the members of Local 600 is unchanged.
A business representative for 32 years – spanning both Local 600 and its predecessor, IATSE Local 644 – Amman became the Assistant Eastern Region Director on December 1 of 2022. “I’m excited about the new position,” he says. “I look forward to continuing to expand my work with the local.”
He will continue with his previous responsibilities which include overseeing contracts and answering questions from members. But now Amman will have a more active role in running the local’s eastern region office including attending senior staff meetings and “being involved in issues at that higher level.”
In the Eastern Region, Amman works alongside ICG’s Eastern Region Director and Interim National Executive Director Chaim Kantor, continuing a relationship that began thirty-two years ago.
“When I started working for Local 644, I was hired as the assistant business agent and Chaim was the recording secretary for our executive board at the time,” Amman recalls. “We were probably the two youngest guys going into the meetings, and here we are today.”
Over the course of his more than 30 years in organized labor, Amman has observed and often written about changes within the entertainment industry. IATSE’s fight to protect and expand its jurisdiction has been ongoing and has resulted in tangible successes for its membership.
Amman points to his own twenty plus years of experiences in organizing live shows and TV specials as an example of the union’s successes. What had initially been a difficult fight is now a matter of course as employers either sign term agreements or contact the union directly to make sure their jobs are under contract. As recently as New Year’s Eve, Dick Clark productions enlisted a 30-member crew to film a segment of the New Year’s special in Puerto Rico. He also secured another New Year’s Eve show in NYC.
“The crew all worked under the basic agreement,” says Amman. “I think what was telling was that the producers felt obliged to contact us and let us know what they were doing, and they wanted to make sure that everything was done the right way.”
That’s the way the process is supposed to work. It’s hardly uncommon for producers to staff a production and hope to complete it non-union. Local 600 reps would hear what was going on and reach out to the production to make them sign an agreement.
“Twenty years ago, there was more pushback from employers,” says Amman. “Today, live event employers know that jobs have to go union if they are to utilize our members. It helps that we represent the best visual artists and technicians in the television industry. The employers’ reliance on our members’ skills gives us a lot of clout. Still, we take nothing for granted, we work closely with our members and the other IATSE locals to ensure we get as much production under contract that we can. We are simply utilizing a playbook that the IATSE used successfully for years.”
Amman grew up in Michigan, the son of a father who, along with other family members, was a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW). Amman recalls early discussions of contract negotiations and strike actions at the auto plant.
He attended Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations to earn a Masters degree and quickly found a niche studying the film and TV sector of labor.
“This was around 1988 when the Department of Labor gave the School of Industrial Labor Relations a sizeable amount of money to do a study of labor relations in the arts and entertainment industry,” Amman says. “I became the graduate student assigned to that study and I wrote my Masters thesis on below the line unions. Even before I started working for Local 644, I was very familiar with IATSE, how it ran and its structure.”
The landscape was noticeably different at the time. Amman recalls IATSE’s concerns over the rise of non-union feature film production, particularly with independent filmmakers and the willingness of studios to finance and distribute non-union films. This led to extensive organizing efforts.
“If I go back 30 years, IATSE was in a more precarious position than it is today; the union was contending with pockets of nonunion film production throughout the country,” says Amman who has continued to write articles and contributed to other scholarly works. “In that regard, the IATSE has fared much better than the rest of the American labor movement. In 30 years, it has seen its membership and jurisdiction grow dramatically. I’d say that the union’s control of the labor market and its emphasis on organizing have been key to its success.”
“I think the local and the industry are still going to go through ups and downs,” he adds. “But by keeping our focus on organizing and effectively addressing their needs, we can weather the storms and continue to be a powerful advocate for our members.”