The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 478 is the New Orleans chapter of the international labor union representing skilled crafts workers in film, television, theater, broadcasting and live events.
Chartered in 1986, the New Orleans chapter of IATSE represents film and television workers throughout Louisiana and Southern Mississippi. Its membership has grown significantly following the establishment of the Louisiana Film Incentive & Tax Credit Program, a statewide initiative to promote in-state production of big-budget films. Today, it represents over 1,100 members in 17 different trades, including graphic artists, set designers, sound equipment operators, special effects coordinators, costumer designers and more.
IATSE members are typically freelance workers who are hired on a project-by-project basis. As independent subcontractors, their jobs are structured very differently from traditional workers. They have few of the benefits that go along with traditional employment - such as retirement savings, paid time off, and health care - and tend to work very long hours for short periods of time when a film is in production. Production companies rely on the flexible labor of these local "below the line" workers to minimize costs and bring film shoots locations outside of Hollywood with high tax incentives, such as Louisiana.
IATSE plays an important role as an intermediary between film workers and production companies. In addition to maintaining rosters of available members that it shares with upcoming film projects – most of which are from out of state and thus not familiar with local craftspeople in the industry – it also organizes independent workers under the umbrella of the union so that it can negotiate collectively on their behalf. In doing so, it can ensure fair working conditions and compensation for its members while still providing the employment flexibility production companies require.
Two factors make IATSE’s work particularly challenging. In the era of “runaway” film production when movie projects are free to locate anywhere, IATSE must be able to balance the needs of its members with the demands of production companies or risk losing future films to states with less strong unions. Additionally, as a right-to-work state, Louisiana does not require that workers in most sectors join unions as a condition for employment. Because of this, IATSE has to actively work to organize each film project that comes to town. It can only represent workers on a production if over 50% of them sign collective bargaining agreements authorizing the union to negotiate on their behalf. Most film productions in Louisiana are organized by IATSE, but its place at the table is never guaranteed.