From Los Angeles Daily News
Friday, November 14, 2003

Unions protest job loss in film productions

By Greg Hernandez
Staff Writer

CENTURY CITY -- More than 300 members of Teamsters Local 399 and members of other labor unions held a boisterous rally Friday morning to protest against California losing film and television production jobs to Canada and other countries and called upon Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger for his help.

Schwarzenegger, who will be sworn into office Monday, was repeatedly mentioned as various speakers made it clear they expect him to take the lead on the issue causing job losses and struggles for businesses that rely on the entertainment industry.

"There's a great deal of hope among these workers that the governor has a unique understanding of their plight," said State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles. "I'm hopeful that will translate into some help."

Kuehl is a former actress ("The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis") who authored legislation that offered incentives to midrange budgeted movies that film in the state. She said the state's budget crisis has resulted in the elimination of those incentives, for now.

"I'm calling on the governor to restore some incentives to keep filming in California," Kuehl said. "I'll work with the unions and all industry groups to craft that discussion."

The rally closed down an entire block of Avenue of the Stars with a parade of more than 140 trucks and buses used by Local 399 members on movie sets throughout the state. The rally was organized by the Film and Television Action Committee, which has been fighting runaway production for several years.

"We are saying to (Schwarzenegger), 'Are you with us or aren't you?"' FTAC Chairman Brent Swift said to the crowd. "We're hoping he hasn't gotten into bed with the studios. Write him a letter and tell him we're dying here!"

Schwarzenegger's transition office had no comment Friday. But when the governor-elect made a visit to Washington, D.C., recently, runaway production was among the topics he discussed with lawmakers. He has charged senior adviser Bonnie Reiss with the mission of helping the state retain entertainment industry jobs.

Last year, Schwarzenegger took a cut in salary for "Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines" in order to keep the project in California. But several speakers still slammed him for making other past projects out of the country.

"Now we have a movie star who is a governor and the first step he should take is to protect jobs in this industry," said State Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Van Nuys.

The rally was decidedly anti-Canadian with speakers assailing the U.S. neighbor to the north for luring a flood of productions out of Los Angeles and other parts of the state with its lower production costs.

Alarcon expressed his feelings bluntly: "This is b---s---! The audacity of these people to come into our town to try and steal our jobs and our business. Just as we are fighting this so-called war in Iraq, we need to fight a war against those people who are stealing jobs away from California."

A study by the Encino-based Center for Entertainment Industry Data and Research stated that since Canada began offering tax subsidies five years ago to film production companies for major films, the U.S. economy has lost about $4 billion in economic benefits, equal to about 25,000 jobs per year.

Many of those very workers who have suffered from the situation were among those in the crowd Friday holding signs which read: "Canada: We need to feed our families too! Don't steal our jobs."

Harout Gradzhah, 30, has driven production vans for the past 11 years and has seen the amount of his work dwindle to about a third of what it was five years ago.

"Basically it's a day here, a day there," he said after the rally. "All through the summer, I didn't work one day. I used to work 9, 10 months out of the year. Now it's 3, 4 months or less."

Stage technician Ron LaManna lamented the old days, prior to 1998.

"When we started 11, 12 years ago, they were shooting everywhere in this town, like 15 movies a day," he said. "We used to make a couple of phone calls and we'd get right on a movie. The movie industry has been completely stolen away."

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