It's Not Just Hollywood Writers Who Lose Out During A Strike

Apr 30, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Hollywood thrillers and labor negotiations have something in common. They often go down to the wire. And right now, writers and producers of those Hollywood movies are racing toward either a new agreement or a writers' strike on Tuesday. KPCC's Ben Bergman tells us a large audience of coworkers is watching and hoping for a happy ending.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

ISAAC GOLI: Oh, hi. How you doing?

BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: When you swing open the front door at Victor's Shoe Repair in Burbank, you're greeted by headshots of celebrity clients and by the friendly manager, Isaac Goli, who wows customers with his repair skills.

ISAAC GOLI: Not bad, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ah, so much better.

ISAAC GOLI: We put a whole new piece in there.

BERGMAN: Lately though, Goli has not been so cheerful.

ISAAC GOLI: I'm not feeling good.

BERGMAN: Goli's shop sits in the shadow of Warner Bros. and Universal Studios. He says he gets up to half his business from costume departments on movies and TV shows.

ISAAC GOLI: We're not going to have any shows, no shoes need to be repaired and fixed and altered.

BERGMAN: Goli was around when writers last walked off the job a decade ago.

ISAAC GOLI: People weren't coming in at all. For six, seven months, it was just horrible. I mean, I wasn't sure if I was going to stay in business or not, to be honest. That's how bad it got.

BERGMAN: When you think about who works in the entertainment industry, glitz and glamour come to mind. But far more people are actually blue-collar, hauling props around or serving food. And it's those workers who could be more hurt from a strike than the writers. Steve Dayan is secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399, which represents a rather varied assortment of workers, drivers, mechanics and animal trainers.

STEVE DAYAN: Most people don't have a lot of money saved up in this business, so it will have a devastating impact. I would say that within a very short period of time, no one will be working.

BERGMAN: That's certainly what Ian Dodd is worried about. He's a camera operator who hopes to retire in a few years.

IAN DODD: Our retirement is based solely on the total number of hours that we work in our career. And that's something that I may not have a chance to make up if it's a long-term strike.

BERGMAN: Dodd says the last strike did have one upside: he got to spend more time with his daughter.

DODD: But then on the other side, of course, it wiped out the savings account, and I fell out of qualification for the health insurance plan.

BERGMAN: In that last bitter strike, writers walked the picket lines for a hundred days.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hollywood's a union town. On strike...

BERGMAN: A study by the Milken Institute found the walkout cost the state more than $2 billion, one of many reasons California tumbled into recession. The good news is the state is in much better economic shape now. There's no housing collapse to deal with. Here's the study's author, Kevin Klowden.

KEVIN KLOWDEN: The fundamentals aren't as bad. That being said, it does mean that California would see its economy weaken.

BERGMAN: Already, some workers in Hollywood have been cutting back. One cameraman told us his family has stopped eating out or going to the movies until the writers and studios make a deal. For NPR News, I'm Ben Bergman in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.