(Halifax, NS) March 5, 2015 – Local television commercial producer Egg Films has walked away from negotiations and locked out the film technicians union, IATSE Local 849.
Halifax’s Egg Films is the largest producer of television commercials in Atlantic Canada and is owned and operated by Mike Hachey and Sara Thomas.
IATSE Local 849 represents the 290 film technicians and craftspeople who crew Nova Scotia’s film and television sets. These same technicians are hired by Egg to crew their commercial sets. But while film production companies provide Workers Compensation Insurance, EI, CPP and contribute to the union’s health and retirement plans, Egg has always refused to do so.
“Our initial outreach to Egg, five years ago, was an offer of a very simple agreement that would see these benefits added to the rates and conditions already being offered by that employer,” says IATSE Local 849 Business Agent Gary Vermeir. “Egg gave us every indication that this was possible, then suddenly slammed the door on us after two years of discussions.”
This led Local 849 to file a successful certification in 2011. Egg appealed the certification to the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court and the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, but their appeal was quashed at each level.
Throughout the process, Egg argued that its business was separate from the film industry and so it should not be held to the same standards of crew welfare as other employers of Local 849 members.
In 2013, the two parties met to negotiate a collective agreement, but quickly reached an impasse on issues of rates and union jurisdiction. Notwithstanding the raft of legal decisions which confirmed Local 849’s jurisdiction, Egg clung to proposals which significantly reduced the union’s role in representing crew. Conciliation failed to bring the parties together and so the Labour Relations Board imposed a one-year first contract.
During the lifetime of the agreement, Egg engaged IATSE members on more than a dozen separate shoots with no incidents or disputes between the parties.
“It’s really as simple as Egg coming back to the bargaining table”, says Jenny Reeves, a local 849 member who has worked on many Egg productions over the years. “Egg is a significant employer for our members, and it is in everyone’s best interest for them to succeed. But as freelancers it is critical that all our employers understand and respect the importance of protecting the health and safety of our membership by ensuring we have things like Workers compensation, health and retirement benefits in place. Other production companies in the region have known for over 20 years that they have to sit down and negotiate with us in good faith. I’m not sure why Egg thinks they are any different. They have greeted us with hostility at every turn in this process. We want a deal that works for everyone, but we can’t agree on anything if they refuse to have a dialogue.”
When the one-year agreement expired in September 2014, the two sides met for two days to begin bargaining a new collective agreement. Again, the union presented a handful of reasonable proposals and was prepared to bargain in good faith. And once again, Egg refused to move off of proposals which would gut the agreement and slash the union’s jurisdiction. Again, the union applied for conciliation, but the conciliator was unable to move Egg from its extreme position.
Last week, Egg requested that the conciliator file her report with the Labour Board and yesterday served notice to the Minister of Labour that they intended to lock out Local 849.
In early February at the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party general meeting, Egg Films owner Mike Hachey tearfully condemned the “injustice” of his company being ineligible for the Nova Scotia Film Industry Tax Credit. “Why are we not to be granted the same incentives as other film producers?” he asked. Yet throughout the dispute with Local 849, Egg has stated categorically that it is not an employer in the film industry, and therefore cannot be expected to provide for crew in the same way as other film production companies.
Egg’s lock-out of Local 849 has prompted the International Alliance to declare Egg Films an Unfair Employer, thereby barring any IATSE member from working for this employer.
By locking out Local 849, Egg Films has locked out every IATSE member in North America.