From the President

State Of The Union January 2011

The Board of Directors, the Business Representative and I have all been returned to office. We are honored by this vote of confidence and grateful for the participation of all the candidates. Welcome and thank you. Win or lose, please stay involved.

With this Board of Directors, we are blessed with a group of capable, experienced, independent thinkers. These folks have each built their careers, brick by brick, preparing them well for the tough future we face as union members. Eventually, the pervasive anti-union rhetoric of the present will have to be reconciled with the severely hammered working middle class of this country. Thirty-six percent of the wealth in the hands of 0.5% of the population.

Your Board of Directors gets it, gladly giving their most valuable asset, their personal time. Other than the Business Representative, none of the officers of Local 695 receive any financial compensation for their participation as officers—not even the waiving of their dues, although it is their right. Not a single Board member has chosen to claim it. These people volunteer their time for long, complex discussion and decision making, on average, one day a month, plus additional time for committee work, projects, negotiations, etc.

They know that without taking ownership, their ability to influence policy is dramatically limited. Please come witness and engage in this process for your own self-interest, either by joining a committee, auditing a Board meeting and/or attending the General Membership meetings as a voting member. You own a piece of “The Rock.” Don’t leave it unattended.

When I first took on this job, I imagined three phases essential to our future survival as a professional community. First, I saw us coming together as a cohesive unit, second, establishing the building blocks of education and communications and third, making a living blueprint for navigating the future of our mutual interests.

Phase one took place when we came out of the terrible trusteeship in the late 1990s. Naysayers predicted that we couldn’t survive as an organization, that too much internal damage had happened and that we would soon disappear. We have proven these predictions wrong! We firmly established a proactive and positive stance.

Some great people stepped up, continuing a long tradition. More have continued to do so. It still inspires me how quickly the private political agendas were recognized, challenged and overcome by the enlightened self-interest of the membership and their elected officers. We healed ourselves.

This isn’t to say that debate and spirited disagreement doesn’t take place as we work toward policy decisions. Thankfully, it does. No rubber stamps here. But there is genuine awareness and concern as well as mutual respect among the players. The arguments are always won by the best idea, not the loudest voice.

Phase two, the focus on education, communications and service, commenced once the cohesiveness of the team became clear.

We knew how urgent it was to return to an education program that could last and grow. It has since become a fixture of Local 695’s profile to the members and the industry. Second to none among the IATSE’s many locals, our training program provides skills for surviving in the workplace. It tickles me that in recent years, newer members have no knowledge that the education program had so long been absent or that this publication hadn’t existed. We have also accomplished dramatic improvements with our representation for the members, be it informational, legal or just policing the jurisdiction. Ask around and you’ll see how far we have come. These new members would and should raise hell with anyone who tries to take away the current level of service they receive from 695. We are not standing still; we continue to build and improve, working hard to make it better.

Phase three. The second decade of the 21st century is filled with uncertainty and chaos. The sandbagging of the middle class, the carte blanche deregulation and consolidation of virtually every industry into fewer and fewer players on the world stage, gives testimony to the rapacious dominance of corporatism. These guys celebrate the 18-cent-an-hour Chinese worker killing himself to buy his first locally built car in a society with a 100% carbon footprint. They want to return to the robber-baron feudal system of the 19th century as the dominant form of government.

Well, as a “dyed in the wool” neo-Jeffersonian capitalist (with a small “c”), I don’t buy it. No one who works for a living should.

Without apology, I am blatantly optimistic. Against conventional wisdom, I believe that Labor itself is the real growth industry. The human instinct for survival is transforming this cycle into a more rational state. Along with assaulting the American worker, these world “marketeers” have been dismantling the American market, the most dynamic market the world has ever seen. If people don’t make sufficient income, they cannot buy goods, simple arithmetic.

Within ten years, it is possible that the present model for monetizing the entertainment industry will be a distant memory, replaced by something more like the studio system of mid-century America. We have already witnessed reintegration of production and distribution in the film and television business. Regulation of this is what broke up the old studio system in the first place. Lower production costs will result from better use of already-owned and under-utilized studio facilities. Savings are to be had by negotiating more realistic deals with on-camera talent (who’s piece of the pie is already contracting). Further economies are made possible from returning to a staff versus freelance model for below-the-line employees, creating much greater security for everyone in the bargain. And cost cutting will come from creating location environments in computers, instead of on location. In addition, we can see political realities emerging as management faces irresistible and xenophobic pressures to protect jobs and job creation here at home. All these elements are converging.

What does it mean to us? It means that we must maintain a constant state of readiness to perform our essential and specialized skills in the market. Although little understood by our industry colleagues, what we do is vital to the process. It is done by hand and is not susceptible to automation. Without it, movies and television cannot be made. This is our strength. This is what we contribute.

Phase three is using this effectively to our mutual benefit on an industry-wide scale. We must continue to ally ourselves with all of like knowledge and skill to achieve appropriate wages and conditions for the essential work we do. This is not a conceit; rather, it is just common sense. There is nothing impossible about it when you consider the cure for polio, the Great Wall of China or landing on the moon. It is the matter of creating a coherent strategy and the will to implement it.


Mark Ulano