Casting Directors Joining Teamsters

The nation's film and television casting directors have voted overwhelmingly to become members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, completing an organizing process that included the threat of a strike, union officials announced last Thursday.

The casting directors voted 243 to 9 in favor of unionization, setting the stage for them to negotiate a contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the major film studios and television networks.

"We're very pleased by the results," said Steve Dayan, a business agent with Teamsters Local 399. "Now comes the hard part: We have to sit down and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement so we can get these guys some medical benefits and the working conditions that they're entitled to."

The AMPTP had refused to grant the casting directors collective bargaining status but tried to resolve the dispute by offering to address one of the casters' chief concerns: their lack of health coverage. With the backing of the Teamsters union, the casting directors rejected that offer as insufficient and threatened to walk off the job, with Teamster drivers and location managers vowing to honor the casting directors' picket lines.

In February, the producers' alliance decided to allow the casting directors to decide whether they would join the Teamsters union in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

According to Dayan, NLRB officials said it was the smoothest election they've had in 25 years.

"In light of the election results, we will honor our duty to bargain in good faith," said AMPTP spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti.

The casting directors will likely receive the health and pension benefits they were seeking, as well as minimum wages and basic working conditions, but they will also have to start paying union dues and stand ready to support other Teamsters union members in their organizing efforts.

The industry's resistance was fueled by its belief that casting directors are independent contractors who, as a rule, can't legally unionize. The Teamsters union maintained that the casters were employees who had the right to form a union.

It was left to the NLRB to determine which casting directors could vote in the election based on their work record with the studios and producers.

Eligible casting directors will now be members of Teamsters Local 399 in Los Angeles and Local 817 in New York.