Teamsters yell 'cut' on plum movie-set jobs
It's a chance to rub elbows with Hollywood stars. And make good money while doing it. For years, a select group of Teamsters Local 107 members have apparently been on a short list for high-paying jobs on movie shoots in the Philadelphia area.
It's a chance to rub elbows with Hollywood stars.
And make good money while doing it.
For years, a select group of Teamsters Local 107 members have apparently been on a short list for high-paying jobs on movie shoots in the Philadelphia area.
That may change.
In response to an investigation alleging favoritism and nepotism in the local's hiring process, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has appointed an outside trustee to oversee job assignments within the movie and trade-show industries. The trustee will operate from Local 107 headquarters on Southampton Road.
The much-sought-after jobs, on movie shoots for such recent local projects as Rocky Balboa, Law Abiding Citizen, and Marley and Me, are few and far between.
Estimates are that between 60 and 70 members of the 2,400-member union work on movies. The jobs are subject to the vagaries of the movie-making business.
But they pay extremely well.
A driver makes about $2,500 a week plus overtime. "Captains," union members assigned to oversee drivers, earn about $3,300 a week plus overtime.
And, veteran union members say, there is always overtime.
That's one of the many perks. Gifts from movie stars are another.
Jack Nicholson handed out expensive messenger bags after completing a recent project, according to one driver who said watches, shirts, jackets, and traveling cases have also been part of the booty that drivers have collected.
The working conditions aren't bad, either.
"Let's put it this way," said a veteran Local 107 member who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing controversy. "I made $150,000 last year, and I gained 50 pounds."
The driver, who estimated he worked about eight months on movies and trade shows, said union members were guaranteed meals while on a movie shoot.
And the food - often prepared by a chef brought in to cater to the whims of Hollywood stars - is top of the line.
"You want filet mignon, they'll cook it up for you," the driver said. "Lobster tail? No problem. . . . Then all day long, someone from food services walks around with trays of food."
Another driver said Demi Moore, who recently completed a film called Happy Tears, had paid to have two masseuses on the set one day giving free back massages.
Nice work if you can get it.
But according to a 125-page report filed last month with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Washington, Local 107 officers, shop stewards, and movie captains have routinely assigned that work to friends and relatives rather than to union members with the most experience and service time.
The report was filed by the Independent Review Board, a three-member panel established by a federal court consent decree in 1992 to root out corruption and organized-crime influence within the Teamsters Union.
Based on interviews and testimony from Local 107 officials and members, the report found that "relatives and friends . . . continued to work in the movie and trade-show industries while . . . unemployed Local 107 members with better qualifications and experience . . . did not work."
The report cited nearly a dozen examples, including:
A brother-in-law of former local vice president Anthony Frasco who got work on movie shoots "even though he was not a member of the local."
A cousin of former trade-show shop steward Michael Conway who joined the union after being released from prison and who was immediately assigned to movie and trade-show work.
A sister of Local 107 president William Hamilton who was hired to drive a van on a movie shoot even though she did not have a commercial driver's license.
Hamilton said last week that there had been problems with the hiring process but that the report and complaints from some disgruntled members overstated the issue.
"It was never an intentional thing to put relatives and friends to work," he said.
In most cases, he said, the examples cited in the report were jobs that were assigned after other union members were already working.
During busy periods, he said, movie shoots overlap, and with about 60 to 70 members in the local with experience, there have been times when everyone was working. That, he said, was when his sister got a job.
Nevertheless, Hamilton said the local agreed with the partial trusteeship put in place. He also said the long-term solution might be for Local 107 to get out of the movie business and give those jobs to another local, perhaps an experienced unit out of New York, where there is a lot of movie work.
Hamilton also alleged that some of those complaining had a "hidden agenda."
Hamilton, who according to the review board report was paid $213,975 in salary in 2008 for his job with Local 107 and for two other union positions, said several members who had complained were aligned with a faction that opposes his leadership.
He also noted that although movie jobs could be sporadic, drivers who get the assignments "make an inordinate amount of money compared to others in the union," which sparks jealousy.
Movie jobs usually last several weeks. Some run three or four months. The pay, the surroundings, and the working conditions make the assignments unlike any other within Local 107.
Drivers shuttle actors, directors, and other staff to and from locations; transport production, lighting, and camera equipment; ferry wardrobe and make-up trailers, and drive food vans.
And once at a location to shoot a scene - which could last from a day to weeks - drivers get paid to sit and wait.
"You take a book and a pillow," said Frank Gizzi, a former Local 107 member who filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the local's hiring practices.
That complaint helped prompt the review board investigation. Gizzi has since retired but remains an outspoken critic of Local 107.
Another critic, Louis Cintron, told the review board, "You got guys that haven't been in the union that long that were working. You got people who were friends of friends who work, and here I am sitting home, not working."
The report said union leaders ignored work-referral rules set up to address the same problems 10 years ago. Instead, the report found, "the pattern of nepotism and favoritism" continued.
Disgruntled drivers said the appointment of an outside trustee would do little to change hiring patterns.
"They're entrenched," said Gizzi, who scoffed at the notion floated by a Teamsters official in Washington that most Local 107 members were not interested in the dispute because the work was infrequent.
"Whoever's telling you that is giving you a line," he said. "It's a gravy job. You can work for six months and make about $90,000, then collect unemployment until the next movie comes along. That's a pretty good year."