Will Academy Award nominees speak up for the workers who make the Oscars?

By David Sirota , written on February 27, 2014

From The News Desk

Earlier this week, Pando reported on the big protests against film subsidies that are being planned by visual effects workers at the upcoming Academy Awards. But that's not the only high-profile labor fight threatening to define Hollywood's annual gala of self-celebration. There's also a big fight involving the Oscar statutes themselves.

As International Business Times reports:

In the union stronghold of Chicago, more than 2,000 miles from the glitz and glamour of the red carpet, workers tasked with the very unglamorous work of handcrafting the Oscar statuettes have been involved in a bitter labor dispute, and it doesn’t look like it will be resolved before this year’s telecast.

The Teamsters Local 743 in Chicago has been unable to reach an agreement with R.S. Owens & Company, the local awards shop that has exclusively manufactured the familiar gold statuettes for the last three decades. A clash between the two sides arose sometime after late 2012, when R.S. Owens was acquired by privately held Canadian company St. Regis Crystal Inc...

Emma Moreno, a representative for Local 743, told IBTimes that St. Regis has since refused to recognize the workers’ seniority or current benefits under a collective bargaining agreement that had been reached before the acquisition. This creates a potentially uncomfortable situation for Academy Award winners. Many of them are members of Hollywood's powerful unions and owe at least part of their economic bargaining power to labor movement solidarity. Yet, many of them could be celebrating their achievements with statutes at the center of a dispute over the most basic union rights.

For their part, the workers are appealing to prospective Academy Award winners to use their platforms at the ceremony and in media interviews to take a stand on behalf of the labor movement. As IBT reports:

Citing the aforementioned pro-union stance of the Hollywood elite, Moreno told IBTimes that she hopes to contact this year’s Oscar nominees to ask them to express their support in a show of solidarity with the Chicago workers," reports the newspaper.
This is a strategy that mimics the Writer Guild East in its separate battle with NBC-Comcast.

As Pando previously reported, that dispute involves the company trying to invalidate the results of a labor election that saw production workers vote to form a union. In response to the company's efforts, the workers have appealed to MSNBC hosts to use their platforms to defend worker rights. Those hosts are in a roughly similar position as the Hollywood stars. Indeed, just as those stars are union members, the MSNBC hosts are rhetorically pro-union and have built their brands around being known as pro-union.

Unfortunately for the NBC production workers, the MSNBC hosts have remained silent, despite the production workers delivering petitions with thousands of signatures asking them to support basic worker rights.

Will that same omertà now pervade the Academy Awards and keep Hollywood's stars quiet? Tune in Sunday to find out.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]