Count Us In is a campaign to organize accountants and get them covered under a collective bargaining agreement. Unlike other IATSE crafts, who enjoy guaranteed representation under regional and national contracts, accountants’ contract coverage is left up to individual negotiation on a project by project basis. For over 20 years Local 161 has asked the AMPTP to voluntarily recognize accountants in our majors agreement- for over 20 years the AMPTP has denied accountants recognition. The time for change is NOW!
If you work in production accounting we need your support. We are currently collecting signatures for authorization cards. You are eligible to sign an authorization card if you currently work or have worked in production accounting within the last 18 months as a Production Accountant, First Assistant Accountant, Second Assistant Accountant, Payroll Accountant, Assistant Payroll Accountant, Post Accountant, or Accounting Clerk.
Signing an authorization card is the first step towards a collective bargaining agreement for accountants and it does not bind an individual to an obligation to join the union. If you have concerns about completing a card check out the FAQ below. When we get the majority of those working in production accounting to sign a card (for each and every show they have worked on in the past 18 months) we are one step closer to guaranteed representation (an actual CONTRACT – no more sideletters).
Production Accountants are an integral part of the crew on film and television sets. They are highly skilled workers that provide budgeting and cost tracking to producers and studios, assist crew with their reimbursements, manage and provide services to all film and television vendors, and they handle the payroll processing for cast, crew, and background actors. An increased demand in production with decreased assistance from payroll companies, an industry transitioning to digital without adequate training, understaffing, and shortages of proper education with the employer’s pressure to place profits above all else have brought accountants to a breaking point. Accountants need a better workplace, improved working conditions, and job protections. If you are interested in reading more about this fight check out the overview link below.
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A union is an organized group of workers who come together to make decisions about the conditions of their work. Local 161 is a regional chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) that represents Script Supervisors, Production Coordinators, and Production Accountants up and down the Eastern Seaboard. As a union, we come together to bargain with management for better wages, hours, conditions, and benefits. The results of those negotiations are legally binding contracts that protect employees and their rights.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is a trade association representing over 350 television and film production companies in the United States. The AMPTP negotiates 58 industry-wide collective bargaining agreements (CBA) for our employers, including the Majors Agreement and the Area Standards Agreement which Local 161 members work under
Projects covered under a collective bargaining agreement provide wages, benefit contributions, and work conditions that set the highest standard in the entertainment industry. Employers are legally bound to meet the standards in these agreements. On a non-union production, including “non-affiliate” productions, the working conditions, wages, and any benefits that employers offer are just that — offers that employers can rescind at any time with little to no recourse for employees.
No! Non-affiliate is a studio exclusive program where the employer (the studio) pays for accountants’ benefits with the Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plans (MPIPHP). The non-affiliate program was designed in a way that keeps us from organizing, and it has left accountants to deal with stagnant wages, understaffing, and split benefits on their own. They also use the non-affiliate program to avoid having to pay you the benefits their full-time corporate employees get.
Accountants working under a CBA also have benefits that the studio pays for (usually at higher rates), AND they also have a business agent to represent them, legal protection, contractual wage increases, paid overtime, 401k access, vacation and holiday pay, contractual distant conditions (idle days, per diem, living allowance), contractual 6th and 7th days, guaranteed payday and scale wages on most sideletters. Have you worked a non-affiliate job and received idle pay, 6th and 7th days, per diem etc.? It is because the unions have fought to make this an industry standard.
Additionally, there is specific language in the non-affiliate agreement about who can be covered as non-affiliate. Often, accountants who are hired incorrectly as non-affiliate will eventually (sometimes years later) be audited by MPIPHP and lose all the benefits accumulated during their work as a non-affiliate; the union can do nothing to assist in this scenario. In our experience, the employers know this will happen, but continue to hire accountants in this manner because they do not care if you receive your benefits! Non-affiliate is also MPIPHP benefits only, so those living outside of the tri-state area with the National Benefit Fund (NBF) plan can end up with split benefits (more info below).
The ultimate benefit of belonging to a union is the strength and power that we gain when we stand together for common goals. Without the union, the employer holds all the power. With the union, the playing field is leveled. Working under a collective bargaining agreement guarantees minimum wage rates, benefits, and working conditions. Local union business agents and field representatives administer the agreements to make sure the employer complies with all the contractual provisions, so when you have a problem at work, you are never going to bat all by yourself – you have the weight and the power of the union behind you. As a member of the union, you will also be able to help guide the priorities of the local, provide input for contract negotiations, and vote on our collective bargaining agreements. Being in a union means taking back control over your working life, in solidarity with your fellow workers.
Beyond these benefits, when you join a union you join a community composed of fellow members of your craft. Local 161 members have access to a variety of exclusive programs and events organized by their fellow members, including mentorship programs, education courses, a private slack channel, and a variety of mixers, panels, and annual events. The union also offers employers access to a database of available members. Members can set their own availability, giving them flexibility over their own work schedule.
At the end of the day, the union is its members so when you join a union, YOU ARE THE UNION!
Accountants are covered in some contracts. But unfortunately, accountants were not members of Local 161 when we first negotiated the Local 161 Major agreement with the AMPTP. The union has repeatedly requested that employers voluntarily recognize accountants as a craft covered by Local 161. But the employers are not required to include a new bargaining unit in an existing contract because it is considered a “permissive” subject of bargaining. Employers have a legal right to ignore these requests.
Neither the union nor the employer can refuse to bargain over a “mandatory” subject (which includes wage rates, benefits, and working conditions) but a “permissive” subject of bargaining is a topic which unions and employers are allowed to, but not required to bargain over.
Collective bargaining rights are outlined by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and a main tenet of that act is that our union and the employer (AMPTP) must bargain in good faith, and that failure to do so is illegal. Insisting on bargaining to impasse on a non mandatory, or “permissive” subject of bargaining is considered a failure to bargain in good faith. The question of adding a group of workers to a bargaining unit is a permissive subject of bargaining. So even though Local 161 has been representing accountants and requesting voluntary recognition for accountants in our contracts for 20+ years, the AMPTP is allowed to lawfully ignore these requests during negotiations. However, there is a way to force the employer to recognize a bargaining unit of workers – winning a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. This will force our employers to recognize us, and make it mandatory for them to bargain with us in good faith.
Accountants are covered in some agreements, such as the Low Budget Theatrical and the Pay Television Agreements. If you were working on a show covered by our Major Agreement or the Area Standards Agreement and you were covered as an accountant, it’s because Local 161 negotiated a sideletter with the production.
A sideletter is an agreement between the union and employer that is not part of the underlying or primary agreement. Local 161 negotiates sideletters with employers on a production by production basis to get contractual coverage for crew not already under an agreement – primarily the accountants. If you’ve ever worked under a contract as an accountant, it is likely because of one of these sideletters! But negotiating these sideletters is taxing on the local’s resources, and not all employers will sign them. We’ll never win protections for all accountants through these agreements. We need to force employers to recognize accountants and fight for a contract that covers everyone, on every show. The only way to do that is by winning NLRB elections.
Strikes are also highly regulated by the NLRB. Strikes that are not lawfully implemented can result in loss of employment, not to mention loss of wages and benefits, and other hardships. The NLRB developed the card signing process to avoid strikes for recognition. Instead of having to strike, we collect enough cards to prove to the NLRB that the union represents a majority of accountants and the NLRB will require the employer to recognize us and start negotiations. This will provide the legal recognition Accountants need to flex their bargaining power and stand up to employers.
The only way to force recognition is through what’s called a card signing campaign. When a majority of people in a bargaining unit (in this case, accountants) sign cards called “authorization for representation” cards, these can be presented to the NLRB as evidence that a majority of members of that craft desire union representation at the bargaining table. Think of it like signing an anonymous petition that says “I would prefer to work under a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by a union.” It’s critical that ALL those working in production accounting sign these cards in solidarity; more voices will be more leverage against the AMPTP.
The NLRB will then review these cards to ensure the union is representing the majority of an appropriate bargaining unit. If the NLRB finds this to be true, they will order an election for the bargaining unit to affirm that they want to be represented by the union. If the union wins 50%+1 of that vote, the employer must recognize the union and they can start negotiations for a contract. The employer will be legally mandated to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for accountants. Whew! That’s a lot right? We can do this!
Yes! Cards should be filled out for EACH and EVERY job performed within the past 18 months, and are effective for 12 months after being signed. In fact, union members should sign authorization for representation cards WHENEVER they are presented with one. On a show about to flip? SIGN A CARD!
Nope! You just have to be working, or have worked, on a production in the accounting department in the past 18 months.
No! We would love to have you as a member, but signing a card is NOT a financial commitment and is NOT a commitment to join any specific union or local. These decisions can be made at a later date.
Cards are held in strict confidence by the organizers of this campaign. We know how sensitive the situation is. Once we are ready to file our petition with the NLRB we will need to prove we are representing an appropriate bargaining unit (and not just a bunch of randos off the street) which may mean sharing our list with the NLRB. Efforts are always made to protect the card signers and a neutral third party may be engaged to review the list. Signing a card for union representation is the legal right of every worker and it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for doing so. Associating with a union is protected activity, and signing a card could actually help protect you in the event the employer engages in retaliatory behavior.
Nope! To sign you must be working in the production accounting department (this includes clerks!). However, if you are not an accountant, you can help us SPREAD THE WORD to other IATSE crew members about accounting and our fight for representation. It is in the best interest of all IATSE crew members to have the accounting crew on their production stand with them as represented IATSE members.
Local 161 members have two benefit systems, MPIPHP for those residing in the tri-state area (NY, NJ & CT) and the NBF for those residing outside of the tri-state area (AL, DE, FL, GA, IL except Cook Co., LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, NH, NC, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WV, and DC). When an accountant residing outside of the tri-state area works on productions that have signed a sideletter with Local 161 and productions that are non-affiliate, they end up with split benefits, or two completely different benefit plans that cannot be merged. Those with split benefits can experience lapses in health coverage and will ultimately work longer to receive full retirement benefits. Ensuring benefits are paid, kept, and can be utilized appropriately will be one of the biggest priorities for our future accountant contracts.
First of all – thank you! The most important thing you can do is talk to your fellow accountants about the campaign and signing a card. The more people who sign cards, the faster we can win recognition and win a contract at the bargaining table. You can also head over to the graphics kit page and spread the word by downloading social media graphics, create an email signature, and share the official campaign logo. If you’d like help getting started organizing your fellow workers, or would like to join our volunteer team (in any capacity) please fill out the volunteer form.