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Food Local Sour on Merger

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Hollywood has one less labor union now that IATSE Motion Picture Crafts Services Local 727-the union that represents the men and women who serve food on Hollywood's TV and movie sets-has been forced to merge with IATSE Grips Local 80, the union whose members pull the camera dollies and shade the lighting on films and TV shows. The merger became effective on Jan. 14.

The merger was ordered by Thomas Short, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and was approved by the IATSE's general executive board. But many of Local 727's members say they are not at all happy about the way their 61-year-old local is being forced out of existence.

Questions are being raised about IATSE's own constitution and its provisions for how a merger should be consummated. Some Local 727 members say the merger with Local 80 is more akin to a hostile takeover.

David Schwartz, who until now was the local's secretary-treasurer, said: "This merger is going to be detrimental to the membership of Local 727. We will lose jurisdiction that we now enjoy, such as food prep and labor. It will create massive unemployment for our membership. And I think it's being done behind our back. There has been no membership vote on this. Our membership is opposed to the merger."

On Jan. 14, IATSE special representative Ron Kutak came into Local 727's office to examine its books and finalize the merger. Unlike some other recent mergers of IATSE locals-such as the merger of the East and West coasts editors guilds and the merger of the East and West coasts camera locals-this merger was pushed through without a secret ballot vote by the members.

According to Article 18, Section 13, of the IATSE's constitution locals may merge "provided that such action is first approved by secret vote of a majority of the members... of each affected local union."

However, Article 19, Section 29, of the IATSE's constitution, states that "notwithstanding any other provisions of this constitution," the IATSE international president may conduct a hearing and "effect such a merger" of two locals without a secret ballot if such a merger "would be in the best interests of the memberships of such local unions and the Alliance."

This seeming contradiction has left many Local 727 members angry.

Five of the local's members filed unfair labor practices complaints against the IATSE with the National Labor Relations Board, but the NLRB dismissed their charges, saying that the IATSE was within its rights to force a merger of its locals.

David Robb writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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