Working conditions in Hollywood were always bad. The pandemic is making them worse.

Millions of employees are calling on the film and TV industry to change its culture.

20 october 2018 - Los Angeles, California. USA: Hollywod sign from lake hollywood park with a palm t...
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Hollywood, according to workers across the globe, needs to change its culture. This week, UNI Global Union, a union the represents 20 million workers across some 150 countries, released a report calling on global film and television industry to change its “long hours” culture. Based on survey data and responses from 150,000 workers in 28 unions across 20 countries, the report titled “Demanding Dignity Behind the Scenes” paints a devastating picture in which overtime is normalized, breaks can be nonexistent, working conditions are dangerous, and pay is low.

“I was working 14-16 hour days minimum, not including travel time. I spent a lot of time quietly crying at my desk,” an anonymous respondent from the U.K. said. “My friends and family all commented on how sad and tired I was on the weekend, if I was allowed a weekend.” The report references serious long-term mental and physical health issues associated with intense work weeks, and in one survey more than 9 in 10 shooting crew members said they “felt unsafe at work or traveling to and from work because they were tired.”

The issues plague industry workers across the world, but, the report noted, the culture specifically follows the lead of U.S. practices: “What happens in Hollywood is setting a pattern for working conditions globally.” The report follows news in recent weeks of the fatal shooting on the set of the film Rust, in which set protocol and conditions have been called into question, along with the labor battle between International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the world’s largest entertainment union, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

On an optimistic note, IATSE reached a three-year Basic Agreement in October that promised wage increases, pension and health plans, and provisions to improve work demands. The agreement came after IATSE voted to go on strike earlier in the month amid stalled discussions with AMPTP — a dramatic but necessary move in order for workers “to be treated like humans rather than line items in a budget.”

The calls for change from IATSE and from countless workers across the world have become only more desperate amid the pandemic. “[Working conditions have] got massively worse since we’ve gone back after the lockdown just because there’s been a backlog in terms of productions that are all shooting at once now, and they’re all trying to get the best crew, and they’re all competing with each other,” said Spencer MacDonald, the national secretary of the London Production and Regional Production Divisions of the U.K.-based union, Bectu.

The report included a list of recommendations around wages meeting collective bargaining agreement or national legal standards, the institution of voluntary overtime, and non-discrimination and diversity policies. Changes are needed to meet what appears to be a tide of ever-worsening conditions in a historically grueling industry. “In a growing number of countries,” the report concluded, “a troubling trend is emerging: Many employers are ignoring both collective agreements and legal restrictions on working hours or simply overusing the flexibility inherent in the language of agreements and laws to make longer hours the rule, rather than the exception.”