Unions play an important role in the entertainment industry. The most prominent for crew positions is IATSE, a labor union that represents a large percentage of workers in film and television. Job categories are represented by different “locals” that make up the craftsmanship behind and in front of the camera.
The largest Hollywood exclusive “Craft-Local'' is Local 44 . We interviewed the past President, Dutch Merrick, to take a deeper look into what he describes as: “The folks behind the scenery who create the environment for actors to fully inhabit their characters and take home the Oscar or Emmy.”
What is IATSE Local 44?
Affiliated Property Craftspersons Local 44 is a professional association of craft persons having specialized skills and talents within the entertainment industry. Local 44 is affiliated with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories and Canada (IATSE).
To truly understand the nuts and bolts of what makes up a union, you have to understand the people that populate it. Merrick puts it all in very human terms:
“We lay the floors, hang the ceilings and create everything in between on a film set. Our Set Decorators add the layer of life to what begins as an empty shell, while our Prop Masters and their assistants add the fine details that help drive the script. Special Effects teams can literally change the weather, from rain and wind to driving snow, and can blow the whole thing up, in the grand finale.”
Local 44 was chartered by the IATSE in May of 1939. Like all unions, they are a democratically run organization. Merrick was able to give a bit more history to the development of the union:
“Our Local'' was once a more inclusive “Mechanics Local”. We were formed in 1925 as Local 37 Hollywood, though were broken up by a notorious coup by the Chicago syndicate in control of the IATSE in the 1930’s. Our Local was split up in 1939 into four Locals: 44, 80 (Grips), 728 (Set Lighting) and 727 (Laborers & Craft Service, which no longer exists as a Local)”
The local has numerous collective bargaining agreements, employing over 6,200 members in more than sixty-five companies in Los Angeles and throughout the world. They represent a diverse group of crafts. Local 44 represents members working in many divergent, but related fields of the entertainment industry, such as: Motion Picture, Television, Commercials, Music Videos, and Independent Shops.
According to Merrick, members of Local 44 are divided up into six recognized crafts:
“The largest groups are Property (at about 2,200 members), Propmakers (at about 2100 members) and the remaining crafts run from around 200-500 members each.
Propmakers include specialists such as welders and construction trades. Property comprises many general as well as specialized jobs, such as Leadman, who runs a crew of ‘Set Dressers’ (Also under 'property' craft) who load the trucks and install the dressing such as tables, chairs and wall hangings. Property craft has Buyers, Prop Assistants, Assistant Propmasters, Greensmen, Drapers and Flooring experts. 'Set Decorators' work with the Production Designer and Director to fulfill their vision for the look of the film via the ‘dressing’. i.e. furniture, wall hangings, etc.
Construction Coordinators hire, budget and direct Propmaker crews, which can be as few as two or three or as many as more than 100 working to build the filming environment.
Special Effects pros rig sets, vehicles and props to move, change or blow up, for example. They also make all forms of weather, handle fireplaces and even on-camera elevator-door-operation.
And finally, my craft of Propmaster. We find or create the script specific or story-driven items that help shape a character or drive the story. Something as simple as a wedding ring, which tells the audience something about a character. Or, perhaps something as specific as the volleyball in Castaway. A prop that had a long story-arc and was essentially the main co-star to Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning performance.``
All of the craft descriptions can be found here.
How to Join Local 44 as an Individual
The first prerequisite to join Local 44 is accumulating 30 days of union work registered with Contract Services Administration Trust Fund (CSATF).
It is a requirement to be placed on the Industry Experience Roster (also called the “IER” or the “Roster”) to work or be hired for an IATSE contract project per IATSE union rules. The Roster, managed by CSATF, is a list of union members who have logged a certain amount of work experience within a specific job. Once individuals are placed on the Roster, they are able to work on IATSE contract projects and are eligible to join local 44.
Can You Work on a Union Show Without Being an IATSE Local 44 Member?
There are two ways you may work on a union production if you are not a member.
1. Working as a “Permit” on a turned over call from Local 44.
When union productions are looking for last-minute positions on productions, they will make turned over calls that allow non-union persons to work on productions as a permit. These rules must be followed for a turnover to be considered legal. Failure to comply is cause for rejecting your days and grieving the production.
A representative authorized to hire for a production must place a work call at Local 44.
The work call must be placed no later than 6:30 p.m. the day before the call. The Call Board must be given adequate time to fill the call. The Call Board contacts members of the requested craft, starting with the member who has been unemployed for the longest amount of time.
The person who places the work call may provide names of members to call, otherwise known as a “request call”. After the “requested” members have been called, the Call Board will inform the “requestor” if the call has been filled. If it has not been filled, the “requestor” may provide more member names, or the Call Board will attempt to fill the call by contacting members of the requested craft, starting with the member who has been unemployed for the longest amount of time.
If all members in the requested craft are working and not available, the union will turn over the call to the production staff allowing them to hire a “permit” (non-union worker).
Once you have completed thirty (30) union days, you must submit your time worked to CSATF in order to be placed on the Industry Experience Roster and join Local 44.
2. Organizing a production from Non-Union to Union.
If you are working on a non-union show which “flips” (becomes a union show) and you accumulate a total of 30 days, you may be eligible to join Local 44. You must be working on the production prior to the organizing effort. Once you have completed a total of thirty (30) days, you must submit your time worked to CSATF in order to be placed on the Industry Experience Roster and join Local 44. The local always appreciates any information which may lead to the signing of a non-union production.
How to Join Local 44 as a Signatory
Your company must be performing work or services that falls under the jurisdiction of the Union and for the Motion Picture and Television industry. There are two types of Signatories. “Owner” or “Employee Shareholder”. Each type has different requirements and your particular companies’ business model will need to be discussed in an individual meeting. However the basic framework for these types are the following:
Owner Companies: These are companies where the owner solely runs the business and does not perform any work that would be covered by a Bargained Agreement with the Union. The owner pays union wages and benefits on behalf of their employees who are required to be a member of the union.
Employee Shareholder Companies: All of the above applies with the exception of the status to the owner. In these companies the owner performs covered work that falls under the jurisdiction of the Bargained Agreement with the union. The owner is required to make benefit contributions on behalf of him or herself for 56 Hours per week for a period of 48 weeks per year to the Motion Picture Pension and Health Plans. In addition the Employee Shareholder companies are required to employ at least one other covered employee in any twelve month period, and report a minimum of 1,500 hours (in the aggregate) for such other employee(s). This is a rolling twelve month period. As well as pay the union wage bargained for in the agreement and benefits to the Motion Picture Pension and Health Plans for those employees who are required to be a member of the union. A submission of a security posting to the Motion Picture Pension and Health Plans is also required.
Companies that service the Motion Picture and Television industry are varied and in many instances unique. If you wish to have further information contact the Business Agents office at the Union.
How Much Does It Cost to Join Local 44? IATSE Local 44 Union Dues
The IATSE local 44 union dues are not published, but Merrick told us this:
“The initiation dues vary by craft and are based on the hourly rate of that particular craft. The most common example would be Property craft which comes in for about $7,400. (Another bonus is the Local 44 sweatshirt new members get to pick when they swear in. We jokingly call it the world’s most expensive sweatshirt. Though it is assured to protect the wearer from more than the cold!)"
Local 44 IATSE Benefits
The overall benefit to any union is the financial and physical protection of their members. Here are some specific advantages of Local 44 IATSE Membership:
Fair Wages and Decent Working Conditions.
Overtime pay after working 8 hours each day or 40 hours per week.
Compensation for missed meals, short turnaround, etc.
Health and Welfare Benefits.
A choice of medical plans paid for by your employer in accordance with our agreements. Members employed under the Motion Picture Basic Agreement, MOW Agreement, Commercial Agreement and Green Book Video Agreement are covered under the Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plans.
Safer Working Conditions, State and Federal safety laws enforced at all times.
Your health and well-being on the job is a priority.
Procedures for Disputes and Grievances.
A business representative, shop steward and/or legal counsel are available to respond to serious problems in the workplace such as pay disputes, discrimination, harassment and health/safety issues.
State and Federal Representation looking out for your interests, such as safety and work conditions.
There are also social and emotional benefits, as Merrick describes:
“Joining the IATSE has many side benefits like building a much bigger circle of friends and allies from whom to find work. As we are not a 'Hiring Hall' (we don’t simply dispatch all jobs through the hall, members find work on their own) it is important to build one’s network in the business, to maintain employment. Gigs come and go and it’s a lifetime task of keeping the next one on the horizon.
Having the union to rely on has meant that in 3 severe sports or driving accident injuries I’ve experienced over the past 20 years, my hospital bills have been covered. I know that my employer will think twice before putting me in a potentially dangerous situation, because he knows I belong to a union with representatives, hired to push back if the need arises. By pooling our monies, our lone workers aren’t so lonely. We keep attorneys on staff, willing to go head to head with the largest companies in the world to protect our rank and file workers. That builds a lot of confidence in our members as we come to set each day.”
The IATSE Local 44 Basic Agreement: What You Need to Know
There is no stand-alone IATSE Local 44 basic agreement. All IATSE affiliates, including Local Union 44, are part of the overall IATSE Basic Agreement. This agreement changes every three years, the most recent version is 2018-2021.
Topics covered in the basic agreement:
Required company contributions
Safety and set requirements
Hours, wages, and mandated breaks
Holidays and vacation time
Healthcare benefits, pension, and retirement funds
This is not a comprehensive list, and changes happen frequently. Whether you are considering joining a union, are a current member, or a contributing company, it is important to use your member login frequently to keep up with current agreements.
The best way is to to contact the union directly (www.local44.org) to make sure you have the most up to date information.
The IATSE basic agreement is an umbrella document for all affiliate union locals. However as a disclaimer, IATSE Local 44 will also have its own specific agreements and qualifications. This can vary from Local union 44 signatory agreements, yearly wages, and even to Local 44 union holidays.
IATSE Local 44 Jurisdiction
IATSE Local 44 is the largest Hollywood-exclusive “Craft-Local.” Cinematographers Local 600, Art Directors L800 and Editors L700 are national guilds with a large footprint in Hollywood. Local 44 is exclusively SoCal based. They send crews nationwide for film and TV.
IATSE Local 44 jurisdiction includes feature films, episodic single-camera and multi-camera television shows, streaming series, commercials and music videos.
Their sister Local 33 Stagehands covers daytime TV, awards shows, music concerts, theater and trade shows in LA.
IATSE Local 44 Rates
The IATSE local 44 pay scale is part of the overall IATSE basic agreement. Depending on the role, the pay is either a weekly or day rate.
Assemble has compiled a comprehensive breakdown of the day rates for film crews, including crafts covered by local 44.
Local Union 44 Contact Information
Local 44 Affiliated Property Craftspersons can be reached at the following through their physical address, email or phone number:
Local 44 email address:
Local 44 union address:
12021 Riverside Drive
North Hollywood, California 91607
Local union 44 phone number:
Hours of operation for Local 44
The Business Office hours: M-F - 9:00am to 6:00pm
The Call Board hours: M-F - 8:00am to 8:00pm
Hire an IATSE Local 44 Member
There is the old adage “if you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur”. The film industry is an expensive medium with very high stakes, so making sure you have the best crafts person at their job is the wisest move you can make as a producer.
As Merrick explains:
“Our Hollywood area IATSE members are the best of the best. Simply by being the busiest film location in the world, our workers build up skills and constantly develop new film making methods better than any other region. While many other film hubs worldwide offer crews who have done the work on a part time basis, often for many years, our crews work year-round and do nothing but this. The vast array of lighting, camera, rigging, transportation and other industry innovations have originated right here in LA.
Our Hollywood area film crews are considered the world over as the gold standard. The regular safety training courses we must study and keeping up on the latest safety equipment, fall arresters, respiration safety, etc. helps us maintain an edge over those who don’t have this.”
To hire an IATSE local 44 member, you can find their member resumes here.
Key Takeaways: 44 Local IATSE
IATSE Local 44 is a Hollywood centric union that sends its crews out all over the world. If you are a Prop Maker, Propmaster, Set Dresser, Construction Coordinator, work in special effects or support any of these roles, joining local 44 is essential to making a career in the film and television industry.
As Merrick puts it:
“With the power of a union behind workers, we enjoy the benefits of better wages, better working conditions, one of the nation’s better health plans, a solid retirement plan and day-to-day on-the-job representation to make sure we are not put in harm's way on set. We have representatives visiting our stages and locations to make certain that our contracts are enforced and that our workers are protected.”