Why We Fight – Local 600 on the Political Trail

Supporting Measures that Bolster Industry and Other Workers

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January 29, 2020
(L-R) Director of Photography Mark Weingartner, Rep. Adam Schiff and Western Region Director Alex Tonisson at an IATSE-sponsored breakfast with the congressman.
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When Local 600 recently sent a survey to members inquiring about their interest and involvement in politics, we weren’t asking simply out of idle curiosity. Those survey results will be reviewed and considered as the local sets its goals for 2020.

Local 600 takes politics seriously, to the point where delegates travel to Washington, D.C., and to the capitals of states with large membership concentrations when key legislation is being reviewed. Working in partnership with coalitions such as the California IATSE Council and the Entertainment Union Coalition, Local 600 advocates politically and financially on behalf of people and issues that they determine are worker-friendly.

The reasons behind Local 600’s political involvement are clear. The goal is always to help working families both within Local 600, throughout IATSE and across the industry.

“Collective bargaining is a union’s bread and butter and its core mission,” said National Executive Director Rebecca Rhine, “but what underpins that mission is your commitment to help working families in almost every aspect of their lives. Any union trying to address issues solely through collective bargaining is missing an opportunity to be more effective and more successful.”

The local’s decisions on what types of issues to support take into account a number of factors. Legislation that creates or preserves film incentives in a given state are natural fits. The same is true for measures which directly benefit members of the motion picture and television industry. In 2019, Local 600 lobbied in Sacramento on behalf of Senate Bill 271 which insured that important benefits like unemployment insurance, state disability insurance and paid family leave were provided to California industry workers whose work on productions took them out of California.

Similarly, Assembly Bill 51 – while it does not specifically target the entertainment industry – resonates with working men and women. The bill prevents employers from requiring workers to agree to binding arbitration as a condition of employment.

Going back to 2018, Rhine referenced a landmark decision by the California Supreme Court that she believes all unions should have been tracking. In the case of Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court, the court reinterpreted and ultimately rejected the Borello test for determining whether workers should be classified as either employees or independent contractors.

“All unions should be involved in the effort to translate that court decision into permanent state law that protects employees from being misclassified and therefore not having access to all of the rights and protections that are afforded to employees,” Rhine said.

The fight will continue in 2020, a key year that – in addition to the presidential race – will have state and federal legislators considering important issues. Local 600 expects to be lobbying on measures across the country. A bill in California would curb unexpected medical charges incurred during emergency room visits. In New York, increasing access to paid family leave is the goal. The implementation – or rollback – of union-busting right-to-work legislation in member-heavy states is always on the local’s radar.

Enlisting state or federal agencies to help enforce safety measures is another potential area of consideration.

“We bargained about rides and rooms and rest periods and we’ve had some success, but there is still a culture of unsafe hours,” Rhine said. “We want to look at all the options for ways to address it, and some of those ways might involve state regulations.”

Local 600 does its due diligence before offering its support, but as 600 veteran political consultant Kathy Garmezy noted, political issues of importance “identify themselves.”

“The more you’re engaged, the more you’ve got your ears to the ground and you begin to hear about things that either could affect you adversely or be something where you could do something positive,” said Garmezy who has been working with Local 600 since 2018. “The more you’re engaged, the more you can protect people.”

Local 600 also fully expects a healthy turnout of members in November. Registration drives and Get out the Vote (GOTV) initiatives have already begun – several led by Young Workers Groups – and will continue through November. Local 600 has proven adept at turning out members for phone banking and precinct-walking, and Local 600 leadership believes they will be able to put boots on the ground in 2020
as well.

“Our members have got to get involved,” Rhine said. “No matter how many legislators Kathy and I go visit, what they respond to is voters in their district. It’s not about the union. It’s about voters.”

“Everything we do should align with our mission, which is to promote safety, security and solidarity,” she added. “We have to be disciplined, we have to be smart and we have to pick our fights and do the work necessary to prevail.”

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