‘Top Chef’ Spin-Off ‘Family Style’ Flips

May 26, 2021
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Crew members on the unscripted Top Chef spinoff show Family Style gained a new appreciation for the meaning of “family” last week after leaving the set and ultimately achieving coverage under a union contract negotiated by the IATSE.

Approximately 90 employees in IATSE crafts — including 11 in the camera department — helped the union flip Family Style, resulting in a benefits-laden deal with producers who have a lengthy history of non-union production.

The contract includes contributions towards health, pension and IAP benefits retroactive to the employees’ date of hire; wages and conditions from the Videotape Supplemental Agreement; no reduction of any current wages or working conditions; better working conditions including daily and weekend rest periods and triple time after 15 hours; roster eligibility for all days from the date of hire; the right of first opportunity for hire for the entire crew for the next season or cycle; and no retaliation for supporting the union organizing drive.

“It was a really solid win,” said Local 600 Western Region Business Representative Michael Chambliss. “Flipping a show union is not just about camera. It’s about lifting all of the departments. These were tough negotiations with a lot of emotional ups and downs and uncertainty. The crew really stuck with it.”

Chambliss credits recently hired Western Region Business Rep Ryan Sullivan for both his hard work and detective skills. Tasked with reaching out to crew members in the camera department, Sullivan was given access to a call sheet that contained only first names. So, Sullivan, who spent many years as a camera assistant in unscripted TV before becoming a business rep, started checking databases and making calls.

“Once I was able to narrow down who everybody was, it was a slow outreach process of introducing myself,” Sullivan said. “As an AC, I remember getting texts from business reps and thinking, ‘Oh my God. I did something wrong.’ I kept this as friendly as possible, explaining who I was before any job action so that people could be a little more comfortable talking with me.”

Any walkout or strike comes with risks, including the possibility that a participant might be fired from the project if the work action proves unsuccessful. Sullivan spent most of the week leading up to Wednesday’s walkout talking to crew, answering questions and addressing concerns that came from guild members and nonmembers alike.

On Wednesday, May 19, after no movement from the producers, the IATSE instructed the crew to set down their gear and come outside. The strike began at 12:30 pm and lasted about seven hours, with union members, nonmembers and supporters all expressing solidarity. The 90 employees involved in the strike action came from all disciplines, and they remained on the sidewalk the entire time.

Among them was 1st AC Tiffany Null, a Local 600 member since 2020, who walked out with a nonmember who said he was “on the fence” regarding the action.

“I knew I had to walk out, and I wanted to, and my non-union co-worker told me, ‘I want to take this chance and go out with you guys,’ so it was good to walk out with him,” said Null. “I have been in situations like this that did not go well, but I felt this was worth taking the chance. Everyone was together and solid. It just felt like a really good vibe.”

Camera Operator Petra Costner admitted that the days leading up to the walkout were “a little weird,” but she agreed with Null that solidarity was in full force once the action was underway. With important issues like health benefits and pensions at stake, crew members were motivated to stand united.

“It was super important that everybody came together and supported each other,” Costner said. “Quite a number of people came out of that building. It was nice to see.”

In addition to the benefits of the contract itself, flipping Family Style offered another key perk to members of the camera crew who weren’t already members: a path toward joining Local 600.

“Nobody is required to, but now they have the ability to get over that hurdle. They all have a way to gather the Industry Experience Roster days needed to get on the roster and then join Local 600, which is fantastic,” said Sullivan. “Now they have seen first-hand how, when you stick together, you can make a difference.”

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