America's casting directors are meeting on both coasts this week to decide whether to strike feature films and television productions. If they do, their plan would include gaining the support of the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The casting directors have been attempting to affiliate with the Teamsters and would count on the powerful union's truck drivers not to cross the casters' picket lines.
New York casting directors met Monday, and their Los Angeles cohorts were scheduled to gather Wednesday. The casters expected Teamster officials to attend the meetings and were counting on a large turnout of casting directors ready to fight for recognition and benefits.
Gary Zuckerbrod, former president of the Casting Directors of America, is spokesperson for the casters' unionizing effort. He told Back Stage Tuesday afternoon, "Attendance at the New York meeting was overwhelming. And the tone of the meeting was very successful. We're expecting that the meeting in Los Angeles will be the highest attendance of our meetings to date." Zuckerbrod refused to state the number of Monday's attendees. But he said, "There's tremendous solidarity." Nor would he provide specifics about the discussion or decisions coming from Monday's meeting. "At this point, the casting directors are assessing their options, since we've been rejected formally by the AMPTP," was all he would say.
Movie studio and TV network producers—through the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers—have denied recognition to a new casting directors' union, negating the casters' call for benefits, particularly health care.
A majority of 500 casting directors and their associates in New York and Los Angeles have signed cards authorizing the Teamsters union to represent them. Steve Dayan, a business agent for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' Los Angeles local, has been working with casters on both coasts. He and a New York steering committee of 11 top casting directors in Manhattan have also been communicating with the Teamsters' New York Local 817. Leaders of the unionization movement sent an e-mail to casting directors last week, reviewing the issues involved in the effort to form a union and acquire benefits.
"We are virtually the only craft in the film and television industry that is not eligible for some kind of union benefit for working members," the e-mail explained. "Writers, producers, script supervisors, animal wranglers, craft service workers, publicists, production office coordinators all get benefits…. We are almost the only ones who have not organized and demanded basic American workplace equality."
The missive—which took the form of a list of frequently asked questions—also carried a more dramatic tone than previous communications. It spoke of the "fight" for recognition and the fear of taking on the producers' authority.
"We are all afraid," the e-mail emphasized. "Afraid of losing what we have struggled so hard to get for ourselves. We have been fighting so long and hard that we think what we have been able [to] get for ourselves is the best that we can do. But there is another way: Using our power as a group to fight for what we deserve."
The casting leaders explained the rationale for affiliating with the Teamsters: "We have been at this effort for years and have made a number of overtures to different unions over that time," the e-mail said. "We have been turned down by the DGA, the WGA, and IATSE. The Teamsters have supported our organizing efforts over the past three years, including financial support and legal support for individual casting directors when asked."
The AMPTP has major contracts with all the top film and TV unions, including the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Writers Guild of America. Those unions now are supporting the casting directors in their unionizing effort with the Teamsters.
The e-mail also noted that feature film and TV casting leaders have talked with their peers in commercial casting: "We have met with the head of the CCDA [Commercial Casting Directors] and with their board, and they have been very supportive of our efforts. If we establish a contract for TV and film casting directors, the way will be a lot clearer to establish a contract to cover commercial casting work—in much the same way that an actor is covered by separate contracts when she does film/TV or commercials."
Teamster representative Dayan's office in L.A. said he was out of town. He had not returned a call by press time Tuesday.