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An Introduction to the IATSE

Historical Background

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States and Canada was originally chartered by the American Federation of Labor as the National Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in 1893. Our name has evolved over the course of more than 100 years of geographic and craft expansion as well as technological advancement. The current title, adopted in 1995, more accurately reflects the full scope of our activities in the entertainment industry. Since the birth of our organization, the stage hands and movie operators have been joined by a great variety of other crafts persons in the numerous branches of the entertainment industry; including motion picture and television production, product demonstration and industrial shows, conventions, facility maintenance, casinos, audio visual, and computer graphics, to name a few, all banding together to achieve the maximum of unified strength.

In 1893, show business was confined almost entirely to the stage. During the next twenty years, the stage carpenters, property men and electricians pioneered a drive for union recognition in the theatre - and finally established their craft as one of the highest paid and most respected in America. The first Canadian local was admitted in 1898 and we were redesignated as an international union. Beginning in 1908, soon after the birth of the film industry, projectionists throughout the continent were brought into the I.A. fold. Again a battle for recognition was fought and won. Later, in the 20's, union benefits were extended to Hollywood studios and the vast network of film exchanges throughout the United States and Canada. And finally, as soon as commercial television got a start, the I.A. took its natural place in this newest field of visual entertainment.

Today, in legitimate theatres, concert halls, art and cultural centers, auditoriums, arenas and other similar facilities, as well as on industrial and other types of shows that travel from one city to another, I.A. members play an essential role, serving backstage as lighting technicians, carpenters, special effects technicians, riggers, prop handlers, audio visual technicians, wardrobe personnel, make-up artists and hairstylists, and in the front of the house as ushers, ticket-takers, doormen and maintenance employees.

IA members are also integral to the production, distribution and exhibition of film and video. Among the classifications of workers we represent in this field are art directors, story analysts, animators, set designers and set decorators, scenic artists, graphic artists, set painters, grips, electricians, property persons, set builders, teachers, costumers, make up artists, hair stylists, motion picture and still camerapersons, sound technicians, editors, script supervisors, laboratory technicians, projectionists, utility workers, first aid employees, inspection, shipping, booking and other distribution employees.

In television, the combined crafts of stage and screen are utilized. Carpenters, electricians, property men, and other crafts persons who had begun their careers in the theatre or film production applied their skills to the new medium and helped the IA extend its jurisdiction. In addition to the traditional crafts, masters of numerous additional techniques are needed to bring live, taped and filmed programs to the public. Thus the traditional stage hands, projectionists, sound service engineers and recording engineers are now supplemented by IA video engineers, audio engineers, transmitter engineers, videographers, maintenance engineers and a host of other television technicians.

Today there are more than 500 local unions affiliated with the IA throughout the United States and Canada. The local unions are the backbone of the IA They are the direct representatives of the membership in all relations with employers. Initially, locals were chartered to represent workers in individual crafts or specific areas of the industry. However, a trend toward combination began years ago with the chartering of mixed locals (Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators) in the smaller cities. More recently we have created Television Broadcasting Studio Employee locals. These locals offer the advantage of combining all the crafts required for the operation of a television station within a single local union. Similarly, as motion picture and television production has become increasingly mobile, we have established studio mechanics locals throughout North America. Our goal has been to create a structure capable of representing all the workers in our crafts wherever and whenever they're employed.

In the IA we have always understood that our bargaining strength comes from our complete coverage of all the crafts involved in the production of theatrical, motion picture or television products. Our members are involved in every phase of a production, from its conception through every aspect of its execution, we're on the job. That principle of complete coverage and unanimity of purpose has been applied by the IA with ever-increasing success to each new form of the entertainment industry. First it was the stage, then motion picture production and more recently, television. As these different areas of the industry expand and develop, we will continue to assert our jurisdiction. This principle has been essential to our past success and will help ensure our future growth. In union there is strength, and when every branch of an industry is united, that strength becomes invincible.

It is through our combined strength that we have been able to achieve some of the highest wages and best working conditions to be found among skilled crafts persons anywhere. It is an established fact that union members enjoy wages that are significantly higher than those of nonunion workers. The contracts that have been negotiated by the IA and its local unions contain wages, benefits, and working conditions that surpass that standard. Our members are among the highest compensated union members in North America. While most contracts are negotiated locally or by region, the General Office signs nationwide agreements in cases where they are warranted by the nature of the work involved. Originally these agreements were executed to cover stage hands on the road with traveling attractions, sound service engineers who cover regional areas servicing projection booth equipment, film exchange employees, and specialized TV functions including live shows that move from station to station. In the 1980's the International negotiated the National Industrial Contract with employers engaged in industrial and product demonstration shows. The industrial contract was the first example of an agreement negotiated by the General Office that set conditions for local unions. In recent years our local unions have recognized that regional and national negotiations provide them with far greater bargaining strength. As a result, during recent Conventions, the delegates have empowered the International to bargain nationally with employers involved in motion picture production, amphitheatres, arenas and stadiums.

In order to protect and expand our bargaining success, it has been, and continues to be necessary to maintain jurisdictional control over the crafts we represent. To do so, the IA has been constantly required to meet the challenges presented by technological developments. Over the years, our ability to adjust to technological change has become one of our greatest strengths. Continuing in that tradition, the IA has been in the forefront of efforts to organize workers in new crafts such as computer generated imaging. Simultaneously, we have continued in our commitment to represent other workers whose jobs have been revolutionized by the introduction of computer technology by providing them with the education and training necessary for them to compete in the changing workplace.

Throughout our history we have shown a willingness to modify our structure to protect our traditional jurisdiction and accommodate new crafts. But that alone is not sufficient. In recent years, the IA has maintained its position in the vanguard of entertainment industry unions by vigorously pursuing a policy of organizing nonunion workers. On both the International and local levels of our organization, we have reaffirmed our commitment to represent every worker employed in our crafts. Recently we have become more aggressive than ever in our pursuit of organizing nonunion workers. This effort has brought thousands of technicians into the IA and has provided them with vastly improved wages, benefits and working conditions.

As the industry changes, the IA will continue to employ innovative tactics to ensure that our current membership enjoys the greatest number of employment opportunities while at the same time making membership accessible to all entertainment industry workers regardless of craft or location. Thus far these efforts have proven to be tremendously successful as more than ten thousand new members have joined our ranks during the 1990's.

© Copyright 1997, IATSE All Rights Reserved Suite 601, 1515 Broadway, New York, NY 10036 Telephone (212) 730-1770

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