Photo by Local 600 Still Photographer Scott Everett White
When speaking with Kali Harrison, three core refrains surface again and again: the value of communication, the need for empathy, and the importance of service. These qualities, Harrison insists, are the key ingredients to creating and sustaining a successful career as a labor union Business Representative.
“Here at Local 600, I’m being of service to a membership who has a range of different personality types and who are some of the smartest and most talented people in the business when it comes to making movies and television,” Harrison said.
Harrison, 49, joined Local 600 as a Business Representative in early 2022. Originally from New York City – he’s a big Yankees fan – Harrison lives in the Venice/Culver City area. He loves movies – especially film noir – and holds multiple degrees in dramatic writing. He has been a card-carrying member of the Directors Guild of America for more than two decades and has embraced the new challenges that come from shifting from working on the set to advocating full-time for union members.
“The majority of the people who are union members care deeply about the jobs and the work they do,” Harrison said. “The ability to affect change happens best in an environment where people come together for a common purpose.”
Harrison says his previous on-set experience has empowered him to become an even more effective advocate and ally for his fellow union brothers and sisters.
Working as a second assistant director, for example, Harrison served as liaison between production and the crew. This experience equipped him with an insider’s sense of what production might be looking for on a particular set and helped him sync those needs to match those of the Local 600 crews he now represents.
“I saw it as a unique opportunity to provide insight as to how productions might look at a situation,” Harrison said. He added that some in production might be inexperienced when dealing with a crew. This is where he emphasizes the importance of communication “from a collaborative space as opposed to communication from an antagonistic space.”
“There are a lot of challenges that can simply be addressed by communication between the membership who’s having an issue and production,” Harrison said. “By being advocates for yourself, you can address things before they become larger issues.”
All in a Day’s Work
Last year, Harrison played a crucial role in leading a campaign to keep more than 300 Local 600 members from being removed from the Contract Services Administration Trust Fund’s (CSATF) Industry Experience Roster, more commonly known as “The Roster” .
The CSATF had identified 450 members to be removed from the list, which Harrison likened to the industry’s version of the DMV. To remain on the list, members must reach certain benchmarks of working union jobs to demonstrate they are active. Harrison helped lead an outreach effort to text, email, and call all 450 members threatened with removal and gather documentation to prove they fulfilled their requirements to remain on the roster.
Harrison then attended an in-person hearing where Local 600 provided CSATF with three binders of documentation he helped collect for the remaining members appealing removal. In the end, CSATF agreed to keep 330 of the scheduled 450 to be removed on the roster – a remarkable 70-percent success rate.
To put this in perspective, another union petitioning CSATF at the same time had 800 members on the removal list and successfully kept only 70 of them on the roster.
“This was the most thorough and well-organized effort to challenge roster removals the Local has ever executed, and it couldn’t have happened without Kali’s dedication and hard work,” said Alex Tonisson, Local 600’s National Executive Director.
For Harrison, it was all in a day’s work.
“It’s not helpful if our membership is being purged from roles that are eventually going to affect their ability to get work in the future,” Harrison said. “We want to make sure that they continue to have the opportunity to continue their careers.”
Harrison has received praise from across the spectrum of Local 600 leadership.
“Kali is one of the most thoughtful humans I’ve been privileged to know,” said Xiomara Comrie, IATSE Local 600 Assistant Western Region Director. “A fantastic writer and so considerate of everyone that crosses his path. He’s a quick study and embraced our complex contracts (despite their challenges). Having worked for about 20 years as an assistant director, Kali’s perspective helps us in developing a complete view of the challenges we face on a daily basis.”
Harrison sees his role as doing the vital union work that allows members to focus on their jobs and secure their futures.
“I’m happy to take on the role of the person who advocates for the membership,” Harrison said. “Membership can then focus on doing their jobs and maintaining those relationships that are going to help them work more in the future.”
Harrison likens production to building castles in the sand, with multiple crafts coming together for a limited time to create something.
“The relationships built and the memories created will last long after the sets are struck and the equipment is returned. That is what Local 600 and its membership can do for each other, and I am grateful to be part of a team the works hard to help make that happen.”