A Wave of Solidarity

Ripple Effects of WGA, SAG-AFTRA Strikes Unleash a Wave of 600 Solidarity

August 23, 2023
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The economic and psychological impact of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes have simultaneously rocked and rallied Local 600 brothers and sisters. As members tighten their belts and cope with the emotional ripple effects, the Local and its members have responded with a flood of practical and imaginative support that personifies their creative character and makeup.

Here are just a few stories of how 600 members are stepping up in solidarity to help out members in their time of greatest need.

Brian Udoff: Three to 26 Miles in Three Weeks

Local 600 National Executive Board member Brian Udoff had never run a marathon. His daily routine was never more than two to three miles a day – “tops,” he said.

But when he heard about the WGA Hollywood Legacy Run (aka: Strike Marathon) – a 26.2-mile route between the 10 major studios where union brothers and sisters were picketing that was the brainchild of WGA member Sara Price – he didn’t hesitate to raise his hand and lace up his sneakers.

“It’s all about solidarity of us, not just between the locals and IATSE, but it’s also between the unions,” Udoff said. “So, when I heard about this – for me it was pretty much a no-brainer. I’m not the kind of person who can sit on the sidelines and say, ‘Well, I hope things go well.’ If I can do something even if it’s small, I’m going to do something.”

He had three weeks to train and up his running game from three to 26 miles.

“I kept my goals extremely modest. I just wanted to A. Survive and B. Make It,” Udoff said.

When marathon day arrived on June 26, Udoff and 12 union brothers and sisters lined up at Radford Studios at 8 a.m. and began their journey to the finish line at Sony Pictures Studios, cheering on their fellow union members on the picket lines at Universal, Warner Brothers, Disney, Netflix, Amazon, Paramount, and other studios along the way and receiving a much-needed boost of support in return.

“It was tremendous – really cool – just getting to each of these (10) stages, because at each of the picket lines people would see us coming through, and no matter how exhausted you are when you hear a big crowd on those picket lines whooping and hollering it definitely puts a little more spring in your step,” Udoff said.

At the end of the day, Udoff ably completed both A and B segments of his mission.

“It gave me the determination to know that one way or another, as long as your feet are moving, you’re going to get somewhere, so just keep going, and in a way that’s a metaphor for these strikes,” Udoff said. “Sometimes, there isn’t going to be much progress – and we’re seeing that now – but you’ve just got to keep pushing it a little further and a little further more, and then you look back and realize how far you’ve gone. That’s where (WGA and SAG-AFTRA) are right now. They’re trying to get what they deserve, and they need to show that they’re determined that they’re going to see it through to the end.”

The Hollywood Legacy Run raised $3,550 for the Entertainment Community Fund, topping its fundraising target of $2,500.

Now that the race is over, Udoff is headed back out to the picket lines to march side by side with his fellow union members to see these marathon negotiations through to the end.

“The marathon was tremendous for me personally and I was happy to show my support in that way, but the more important work I and other Local 600 members have been doing is going out on the picket lines and walking in solidarity with our fellow union members,” Udoff said. “At the end of the day, what these strikes are about, even if it’s not our unions, is people day to day being able to make a living and being able to afford to afford to continue doing the job that they love.”

And, what would a Hollywood ending be without an ironic, comedic twist?

One of the unfortunate byproducts striking writers and actors and their fellow union members are facing (beyond Universal Studios coincidentally cutting off tree branches that had been providing shade to writers and actors – for which Universal was fined) are police eager to issue jaywalking tickets to picketers.

So, at mile 26 of his 26.2-mile day, Udoff found himself at the Sony lot staring across the street at the finish line.

“I was just about to cross the intersection to get to the finish line, and just when I got up to it, the light turned red,” Udoff said. “And so, I had to wait an extra 30 seconds for the light to turn, and when it did, I was allowed to finish the race.”

Food Drives in the Studio’s Shadow

Photos by Frank Schaefer

The searing image that will stay with Local 600 Western Region Business Representatives Ryan Sullivan and Darby Newman was the sea of cars of all makes and models – from Teslas to Toyotas – stretching more than a mile down the street from the parking lot to the front gate of Disney Studios – a biting and fitting irony.

Sullivan and Newman were standing in the parking lot of the IATSE’s West Coast office where they and dozens of Local 600, L.A. Food Bank, L.A. County Federation of Labor, and other area union volunteers at IATSE’s Food Drive were distributing much-needed assistance to the hundreds of union members inside those cars.

 

“Before we even opened there were about 40 cars already in line, and shortly after that the line stretched all the way down the street to the gates of Disney,” Sullivan said. “A lot more people showed up than what the IATSE was expecting, which is fantastic. It’s awful that people have to do this – I’m sad we had to do this at all – but I’m happy so many people embraced it. It was intense, but it was a very good moment.”

The cars winding their way into IATSE’s Food Drive were a graphic reminder of just how wide and deep the impact the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes are having on Local 600 and IATSE members.

“These strikes are hitting everyone,” Sullivan said. “There were people driving $50,000 – $60,000 cars who were probably doing really well for a long time and are now at a point where they need help and they’re taking the time to get it. If you need it, you have to take it.”

For four hours Local 600’s National President Baird Steptoe, Don Starnes, David Frederick, and Robby Marino joined Newman and Sullivan and dozens of other union volunteers to hand out not only food but care packages of baby formula, diapers, COVID tests, baby wipes and anti-bacterial gel to a steady line of union brothers and sisters.

“We thought that this long line of cars would eventually trickle off, but up through the last hour people were showing up left and right,” Sullivan said. “This was a positive thing for unfortunate circumstances.”

Newman emphasized this current moment of collective member need did not come crashing down all at once. Instead, it is the culmination of a calculated, nine-month strategy by studios to slowly shutter all productions in anticipation of the current writer and actor strikes before shutting everything down completely.

“A good amount of our membership has actually been out of work going on nine months now,” Newman said. “A lot of our members have been impacted since the beginning of the year because so many projects just slowed down and then the studios decided not to do anything because of the negotiations.”

Sullivan and Newman said the stigma often associated with asking for assistance is a hurdle many members have difficulty overcoming, but being part of a union that puts a term like ‘solidarity’ into daily practice has helped them raise their hand when they need one.

“There are so many members who look at events like this food drive and say, ‘I won’t do that because I want to save that for the people who really need it. I don’t want to take away from them,’” Darby said. “But you also don’t want to wait too long and put yourself in a position where you’re struggling. As soon as you start getting alarms going off in your mind and your bank account, you need to start taking advantage of resources like this.”

For Sullivan and Newman, the food drive epitomized the bond of cross-union unity that connects all members no matter their industry.

“We had all of the IATSE locals represented, members from all the Hollywood bargaining unit locals, reps and staff members from all of the locals, and the IATSE staff helping out,” Sullivan said. “There were labor unions not associated with the film industry who sent members to help out. It’s amazing that we have that solidarity across Los Angeles. That’s a testament to how positive the labor movement is in L.A. right now.”

“Everybody is being affected – it’s the dry cleaners, the catering companies, sanitation companies and a whole set of businesses and unions who are hurting,” Darby added. “I’m thankful that we’re trying to unite all the unions together in these kinds of fights. We have to have each other’s backs.”

Still, Sullivan said it will be hard to shake the sobering images of their fellow entertainment industry union members literally lining up in front of the doors of Disney Studios, where many of them worked to bring those magical shows to life, for the chance to receive food and basic essentials.

“That image is stuck in my mind – in the foreground people lined up to get food, and right behind them a line of people on strike, and right behind them are the big, metal gates of Disney with Mickey Mouse on top of a pristine building where everything is beautiful and clean,” Sullivan said. “That’s so symbolic of this industry right now.”

But when Sullivan and Newman re-focused their gaze back on the volunteers beside them and the union brothers and sisters pulling up in their cars and rolling down their windows, that agitating image was replaced by a more lasting one.

“At the end of the day you can say that you helped someone today, and that’s a beautiful thing,” Sullivan said.

Now, their gaze is set firmly on the Food Drive at the MPTF campus in Woodland Hills on Thursday, August 24.

Jose Figueroa-Baez Gives and Gives…and Gets a Little Back

Local 600 member Jose Figueroa-Baez’s creative juices have been at full boil since the AMPTP slammed its doors in the faces of writers and actors requesting just compensation for their talent and hard work.

He has joined his WGA and SAG-AFTRA brothers and sisters on the picket lines and began filming a documentary about the genesis of the recent Hollywood Legacy Run – the 26.2-mile marathon that touched each of the 10 film and television studios where union members are picketing – which was the brainchild of WGA member Sara Price and has raised thousands of dollars for the Entertainment Community Fund.

He also plotted and scouted out the accompanying 27-mile Bike Strike – which ran from Radford Studios to Amazon with stops at Warner Brothers and Disney and then Netflix – pedaling the route himself in advance. (He has since biked a 42-mile extended version, which begins and ends at Swingers restaurant in West Hollywood and follows that same studio route).

Figueroa-Baez, co-chair of Local 600’s Young Workers Group and a 13-year Local 600 member, then biked the 26.2-mile Hollywood Legacy Run itself, frequently circling back to hand runners supplies and motivating them to dig deep and reach that final studio picket-line finish line – while filming it all along the way.

Figueroa-Baez said the reception Legacy Run participants received from their union brothers and sisters as they reached each of the 10 picket lines was like a shot of adrenaline (with a side of watermelon snacks, Gatorade, and PB&J sandwiches).

“When we arrived at each picket station there were cheerful celebrations of the marathoners coming through,” Figueroa-Baez said. “Everybody was saying, ‘Here’s some water, here’s some love.’ It was just a wonderful experience.”

As much as he has given to help pull his union brothers and sisters up these past months, Figueroa-Baez understands the power of union solidarity also means knowing there will a hand there for you when you need it. He was one of the hundreds of union members who lined up in their cars for over a mile outside IATSE’s west coast offices at the IATSE-sponsored Food Drive-Thru last month.

Despite his efforts so far to support fellow union members and the future Local 600 initiatives he is helping organize, Figueroa-Baez admitted that receiving rather than giving can be difficult.

“I was one of those people who thought I shouldn’t go, and my wife was the one who convinced me to go to the food drive,” Figueroa-Baez said. “I can confirm that feeling of stigma exists.”

The IATSE has allocated $4 million to support workers who have been negatively affected by the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, but Figueroa-Baez said he is still reluctant to access those funds because there may be others in greater need.

“I’ve yet to apply for the financial aid from because I feel like, ‘No, somebody else is going to need it more, my wife is still working a little bit, and we should leave that money for people that haven’t worked and don’t have any other source of income.’ It’s been a struggle to feel worthy of help when you think, ‘I’m doing O.K. My bills are paid, and I have a roof over my head, and I still have food.’”

Up next for Figueroa-Baez: organize the next Young Workers monthly meeting, coordinate their upcoming garage sale, and help manage logistics for the next Great American Camera Challenge.

“It’s been a hard couple of months, so staying involved makes you feel like you’re putting your little grain of salt in there.”

600’s Mary Brown Picks Up a Picket Sign

For Local 600 1st Assistant Mary Brown, her first instinct to pick up a picket sign in support of her striking WGA and SAG-AFTRA brothers and sisters was second nature.

“Filmmaking is a group effort, and so I wanted to be part of it, and show my solidarity,” Brown, a seven-year Local 600 member, said. “Before I was in 600, and I was just trying to get into the business, I was an assistant to a writer friend. He knew I wanted to work with cameras, and he was so helpful and introduced me to people. That meant a lot, so I wanted to come and show my support. It’s like a big thank you.”

Brown has become a regular on the picket lines in front of Paramount Studios over the last four months, where she has bonded with her union brothers and sisters while simultaneously keeping her artistic lens focused on capturing writers’ and actors’ collective creativity.

“I really just wanted to show my support and let the AMPTP know that we’re all here, and we’re paying attention, and we’re waiting because if the writers and actors aren’t getting treated fairly there’s going to be a trickle down – why would we (IATSE) get treated fairly?” Brown said.

Brown emphasized that the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes were not quick moments in time but rather the end result of an intentional, year-long production slowdown orchestrated by the studios in anticipation of negotiations failing.

“Since January, there’s definitely been less work, ,” Brown said. “Producers (on union features) were holding out because they felt that maybe there was going to be a strike. There was just a lot less work.”

And, if the AMPTP was counting on dragging out negotiations to create cracks in union member solidarity, and if studios were betting that imposing financial hardship would break their collective will, their calculations have instead had the reverse effect: the energy has intensified.

“There’s definitely a lot more people now, and I think people are stronger because of some of the comments made (by studio executives) who are saying things like actors can come back to the table when they’re more civilized,” Brown said. “It’s gotten people fired up, and they’re not backing down. The solidarity is there. It’s real, and everyone’s together. It’s really nice to see.”

Brown is not big on making predictions, but she is confident the long-standing bonds of union solidarity will prevail over studios’ short-sighted focus that places a higher value on profitability over people.

“It’s important for the AMPTP to see a lot of people out there standing up, so I’ll keep going out until this strike is over.”

Having evolved from newbie picketer to old pro, Brown said her advice for anyone unsure about joining the picket lines is to just show up and experience the camaraderie.

“It’s such a welcoming environment,” Brown said. “Sometimes there’s food trucks and karaoke, or a musician comes by and performs. You’ll be glad you did it. I’m very glad I decided to do it.”

When she’s not carrying a picket sign at Paramount Brown is aiming her camera on the writers and actors who are funneling their collective creativity from the television and film sets the AMPTP has taken away from them and transferring them to their new daily work site: the picket line.

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