On a recent Friday afternoon in September, Local 600 Business Rep Micah Landau, along with another Local 600 staffer and four reps from other East Coast IATSE locals paid an unannounced visit to the set of the TV show Raising Kanan. The locals had alerted the production that a recent location, an old, non-operational asphalt plant in Long Island City, contained potentially unsafe conditions, and the producers had chosen not to investigate them thoroughly.
So the IATSE reps from Locals 600, 52, 764 and USA829 decided to drop in on the production a few days later and quietly raise a little bit of solidarity-infused Cain of their own.
“There was no disturbance, but the crew saw it and they liked that we were there,” noted Landau. “We eventually met with one of the producers and he knew what we were there about. He basically said, ‘We’re sorry. We messed up and it won’t happen again.’”
Successful outcomes like this are gratifying, said Landau, who joined Local 600 in February. In a career within organized labor that spans more than 15 years and includes stints with the UFT, SEIU and SAG-AFTRA, Landau has amassed many stories in his efforts to protect working people. Whether standing in the cold at Newark Airport organizing airport workers or visiting movie sets, Landau feeds off the never-ending variety and the all-hands-on-deck mentality of life as a union rep.
He took the job at Local 600 – moving from SAG-AFTRA — because he thought it looked like a “fascinating” opportunity and a natural transition into a different branch of the entertainment industry.
“At SAG-AFTRA, the big stars have agents and although they may feel warmly about the union, I don’t think they really depend on it,” said Landau. “The background actors are on different sets every day and they have very little leverage which limits their power. Whereas at Local 600, our folks are really critical to production. A lot of them are on the same job every day, which means they have relationships with each other and with their producers. Because they’re in the same workplace and because of that continuity, they’re stronger, and they have a lot more leverage.”
Landau comes from a union family – his grandfather was a business rep and officer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Landau grew up hearing stirring stories about his grandfather’s work in the labor movement. Landau majored in Latin American studies and history at Yale, then after graduation, did an internship at the United Federation of Teachers in communications.
“I was a progressive kid who was interested in politics and progressive organizations,” said Landau. “At UFT, I realized that there is strength in unions because they have a membership base that pays dues. They don’t depend on grant money like nonprofits.”
As his experience with unions deepened, he began to also realize the power of organized labor to have a voice and potentially affect change beyond the sphere of protecting the economic interests of its members.
“When Roe vs. Wade was overturned, the IATSE and other entertainment locals took a position against that,” Landau said. “Unions can impact a lot more than just economics because they’re so powerful and because they have a membership base that is so engaged.”
Landau has been learning the intricacies of the various contracts as well as how the industry continues to adapt to a work environment affected by COVID. He has meshed easily with the Eastern Region team, each of whom is – like himself – a jack-of-all-trades.
“We all have our own backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses in the office, but everybody is a utility player,” he said. “Every day is different and it’s all-hands-on-deck. I’m excited to be here working with our members.”