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IATSE vice president believes tentative deal will be 'overwhelmingly ratified'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So the show will go on. Last night, union leaders with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, reached a new contract agreement, averting what would have been Hollywood's largest labor strike in decades. IATSE reports that it represents some 60,000 production workers, including editors, costume designers, cinematographers, stagehands, technicians, animators and more, all of whom would have been sidelined by a strike. Michael F. Miller is vice president of IATSE and helped lead negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents major production companies. And he's with us now.

Mr. Miller, thank you so much for joining us.

MICHAEL MILLER: Well, thank you, Michel. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: Can you walk us through some of the key issues for your members going into these negotiations?

MILLER: A lot of our focus and the priorities that our members sent us to the table to get improvements on were in working conditions, things like reasonable rest periods between shifts of work and recreating the weekend. Our industry, as you well know, sometimes doesn't really provide for any kind of regular hours. And what has evolved over the last several years has been this pattern of employment with long and often unsafe hours and workdays that are so compressed that often crews don't get a meal break.

MARTIN: I noticed that the vote to authorize a strike was near unanimous. I think it - as it was reported, it was something like 98%. That was a statement, wasn't it?

MILLER: It was an incredible statement. And it shows the depth to which these issues are real. And I think as important was the fact that 90% of the ballots that were sent out were returned. That level of participation sent a very, very clear message to the entire industry and, quite frankly, to the entire labor movement.

MARTIN: I want to talk about that in a minute. But I still want to ask about just IATSE on its own. The members still need to ratify the agreement. This is the agreement that you're presenting to them. They still need to ratify it. The - sort of the early reporting on this is that the feelings about it are mixed. Like, what sense are you getting?

MILLER: Well, I think that the early reports are just that. And I suspect that it will be overwhelmingly ratified.

MARTIN: Is there anything in particular in this agreement - I mean, I'm - in a way, I'm asking you to choose among your children. But is there anything in this agreement that you're particularly proud of?

MILLER: If you're going to make me pick one, I think the idea that we have funded our benefit plans in a meaningful and sustainable way and the idea that we've improved the working conditions by reestablishing a weekend and making sure that our members have an ample opportunity to rest between shifts.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, I want to go back to something you alluded to earlier, which is that, you know, Hollywood is a unique workplace in some ways. But we are seeing a wave of strikes, threatened strikes, work stoppages among other organized labor groups. In your view, is there some way in which the deal you just struck fits into a larger battle, debate that labor unions around the country are involved in right now?

MILLER: I think it does. The bargaining unit that we represent is not just Hollywood. We're national - international in scope. And this bargaining unit will - also is expanded to all the production centers outside of Los Angeles as well. And that national sense of labor power, I think, is a very unique moment in time. And I think we're going to continue to see the pendulum swing in favor of workers. We're going to be able to use that shift in momentum from the companies to the workers in order to continue to improve working conditions under our collective bargaining agreements.

MARTIN: That was Michael F. Miller. He is vice president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, IATSE, which reached a contract agreement last night. Mr. Miller, thank you so much for talking with us.

MILLER: Thank you for having me today, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.