A group of 108 Hollywood feature film producers announced Thursday that they intend to form a new Producers’ Union to organize for better wages and working conditions from studios, networks and streaming giants.
Rebecca Green, whose producing credits include the 2013 horror film “It Follows,” was announced as the first president, with other officers including Vice Presidents Effie T. Brown (“Dear White People”) and Monique Walton (“Bull”), Secretary Avril Z. Speaks (“Hosea”) and Treasurer Chris Moore (“Manchester by the Sea”).
The union would be the first to represent film producers, whom Green noted have often struggled to make a decent living from their work despite the rise in production with the onslaught of content-starved streaming services.
“In a recent Dear Producer survey, we found that more than 44% of producers in the U.S. — almost half — weren’t able to make a living from producing in 2020,” Green said. “That is beyond unacceptable and unsustainable given the time and energy producers give to each project. And that percentage represents experienced producers, many of whom had films debut at major festivals or had success at the box office. The survey showed that even before the pandemic, producers could not support themselves on their producing income alone.”
The group also notes that during the pandemic, some producers have lost healthcare coverage tied to the continuation of film projects paused by COVID-19, and that countless producers already struggling to make ends meet were unable to access the sort of financial relief programs that were available to other workers in Hollywood through their own unions.
While there are professional organizations such as the Producers Guild of America, there is not one that serves as a collective bargaining entity that negotiates with studios on wages and other basic terms like the Writers Guild of America or SAG-AFTRA.
Representatives for the PGA as well as members of the new union say that this is due to previous efforts by the PGA to organize as a union that were rejected by the courts and the National Labor Relations Board in 1974 because the producers in leadership at the time were classified as employers and therefore could not be on both sides of the negotiating table.
Despite this, the PGA says it supports the Producers Union’s organizing efforts.
“The PGA represents over 8,000 producers working both above and below the line across film, television and new media. Over the past fifty years, it has sought legal recognition as a labor union; however, such attempts have been rejected by both the courts and the National Labor Relations Board, primarily because the Guild’s members include both supervisors and employees,” the PGA said in a statement.
“Notwithstanding this roadblock, the Guild remains committed to serving the best interests of our members including securing fundamental benefits and exploring creative solutions to all the issues they face. Consistent with that, the Guild supports the efforts of those producers who, today, have sought to form a new union,” it continued.
Producers Union leaders say they are only admitting feature film producers for the sake of focusing organizing and bargaining efforts, noting that the needs and responsibilities of documentary and TV producers are different from those of their feature film counterparts.
“We understand that producers in all areas of content creation deserve the protections of a union and our goal is to eventually include documentary and television producers,” the group said in a statement. “Each different type of producer will have different needs. Because of this, we chose to be very specific in our work with the assumption that we could get off the ground faster if we focused on one type of producer first. Once we have industry support, we can decide whether to expand our reach.”
Green and the other organizers plan to sign up additional members and draft a basic agreement that focuses on salary minimums, pension and health plans as well as clarifying the role and rights of producers on projects. There is no current timetable for when the group plans to contact studios to seek voluntary recognition of the union or to present its proposals.
The rise of a Producers Union comes amid an active period for Hollywood’s guilds, as the Writers Guild recently prevailed in its victory to eliminate packaging fees and affiliate production outlets from talent agencies.
Other guilds, including SAG-AFTRA and DGA, have been at work overseeing COVID-19 safety protocols that allowed production to resume last September. The protocols will be revisited at the end of June as the guilds also mull whether to require members to take the vaccine in order to work on a production set.