Adapting to a New Reality

by Laurence B. Abrams

 

Office Meeting 2020

On September 15 this year, Local 695 celebrates ninety years since receiving its Charter as a Local Union in the IATSE. In those ninety years, the membership has experienced dramatic periods of industry growth and contraction, with the latter putting strains on our membership during the tough times of natural disasters, financial disasters, and international wars. But nothing compares to this global health crises and the complete industry shutdown that it caused.

Events are evolving quickly, and we know there’s still a long road ahead. But we’re confident that the picture will be getting better for everyone and we want to fill you in on some of what the Local has been working on.

In the days preceding Gov. Newsom’s and Mayor Garcetti’s stay-at-home orders back in March, the Local 695 office staff had already completed preparations for the changes we saw ahead. By the time we were forced to close the office, all software and training were in place to seamlessly enable a fully functioning off-site working environment with remote desktop access and teleconferencing for the entire staff. Without interruption, the unusually high volume of phone calls and emails from members continued to flow as usual. Maureen, Casey, Cindy, Linda, and the rest of the 695 staff had full access to all software and data needed to run the Local, and all member inquiries and issues were promptly handled.

One of the first tasks we faced was to pass on to the members—via phone, email, website, and Facebook—the massive and continuous flow of quickly-changing information that was coming to us sometimes hourly. This included matters pertaining to paychecks, health and health insurance, pension, unemployment, government relief, financial and social assistance programs, and many more areas where our members were seeking news and guidance. The COVID-19 Information Page on our website continues to be an active resource for important and continuously updated information to assist the membership in every way we can.

During those first weeks of the crisis, when the industry halted all film and television production, Scott, Joe, and Heidi teamed up with the IA and other Locals to reach out to as many production companies as possible to convince them to offer some form of severance pay for members released from their jobs. Having worked so hard for these companies throughout our individual careers, we were grateful to see that virtually all the major studios and most of the smaller companies came through with at least two weeks of separation pay, and sometimes even three, four, or more weeks. For many members, this was an important stopgap before unemployment benefits and newly enacted government assistance programs began distribution of much-needed payments, grants, and loans to our members, providing at least partial replacement for wages lost.

Another project Scott launched was having the office staff place phone calls to each of our Local 695 Retirees to check in on them and make sure they’re OK and to see if there was anything the Local can do to help. Linda and Heidi have been making those calls and they say without exception that the members are happy to know the Local is reaching out and they appreciated the effort to help them access the many assistance resources that are available.

Through these stay-at-home weeks, we’ve also been continuing our education program by offering members a diverse assortment of free training resources. In addition to online tutorials, teleconferencing has proven to be a very effective training platform and we’ve already conducted many specially adapted classes, including “Communication Skills on Production” with Blas Kisic, as well as “Networking Crash Course: Audio & Video IP Essentials” with James Hunt and “Qtake: Streaming Networks for Video Assist” with Jeb Johenning. This is very important training for our members, especially now, with such high demand for IP Networking skills that can enable new workflows to relocate some crew members at a greater distance or completely off the set, creating a safer working environment for all. Watch for more of these classes.

However, we’re disappointed to announce that exactly at the wrong time, when this training is needed the most, Contract Services has suspended the CSATF Skills Training program, which includes courses that were either free or reimbursed two-thirds. We’ve proposed a scaled-back training program and will continue to work with CSATF in an attempt to do so but in the meantime, Local 695’s Board of Directors has authorized emergency funds to allow us to continue training, with the support of the IATSE’s Training Trust Fund, as well. Please take advantage of this time and review the many free training opportunities announced via email and listed on our website.

Throughout these two months since the stay-at-home orders went into effect, daily staff meetings on Zoom have been the glue that holds the 695 office team together—usually at 3 p.m. for the entire staff, with additional smaller group meetings taking place throughout the day, very effectively achieving the same level of continuous collaboration we’re accustomed to at the office. We’re still receiving a high volume of calls and emails asking for help, and as you have probably seen, the office is getting to them right away, resolving issues as they come in. If there is anything we can help you with, don’t hesitate to email or call the office.

As of this writing, we’re beginning to see the outlines of a path back to film and television production. We don’t know when that’s going to happen or what that’s going to look like, but one message we can send the producers today is this… All of the two thousand Sound, Video, and Projection professionals of Local 695 stand ready and anxious to come back to work for you. We’ve been cleaning our gear, building new cable and training up a storm, ready to implement the newest Audio, Video, and Projection innovations to solve your most complex production challenges. Very soon, let’s celebrate together the re-opening of movie theaters across the country and let’s continue to develop the networks and streaming media services that served us so well as Americans sought safety at home. Look at the great work Local 695 members achieved in the last ninety years, and imagine where our creativity and new technologies will take us in the years ahead.