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Philly Teamsters picket meeting on shifting film work

Disgruntled members of Philadelphia Teamsters Local 107 briefly picketed a union meeting Saturday morning to protest a plan that would shift highly lucrative work in the movie industry to a New York local.

Disgruntled members of Philadelphia Teamsters Local 107 briefly picketed a union meeting Saturday morning to protest a plan that would shift highly lucrative work in the movie industry to a New York local.

About a dozen protesters wore placards that declared "Don't sell out our jobs" and "Keep it local" as they stood in front of a union hall in Bridesburg where a trustee with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and representatives of New York Local 817 were to meet with union members.

"They say that Local 817 will run things the right way," said Tony Sgrillo, a Local 107 member who organized the protest. "My question is: Why can't we run it right?"

The changes were proposed after a Teamsters Independent Review Board report in February found that Local 107 had used a system of "favoritism and nepotism" to award jobs in the movie industry.

The IRB is a three-member panel established under a 1992 federal court decree aimed at ferreting out corruption and organized crime in the union.

Local 107 has jurisdiction of movie shoots in the Philadelphia area, including Atlantic City. That would change under a plan announced by Ron Schwab, a trustee appointed to oversee Local 107's movie work after the IRB report.

Schwab declined to answer specific questions about Saturday's meeting, which took place in the Teamsters Local 623 hall in the 4300 block of Richmond Street.

"Some details need to be worked out, but I think the meeting went well," he said of the two-hour session, which about 50 members attended.

A representative of Local 817 declined to comment.

Union members had mixed reactions to the proposal. Some said they were willing to wait and see. Others felt like Louis Cintron, who said the plan "doesn't make sense."

Cintron, who testified before the IRB while it was investigating allegations of favoritism and nepotism against Local 107 president William Hamilton and other members of his leadership, said, "We're getting penalized . . . because they didn't run things the right way."

Cintron and Sgrillo said the new system, which would set up a four-tier hiring classification based on work experience, would reward those who had gotten most of the work under the tainted system because they had the most experience on their resumes.

Hamilton did not attend Saturday's meeting, but in a telephone interview Friday said he agreed with the trustee's plan. He said the New York local, which is involved only in movie and television work, "is better suited to handle" the issue, adding: "These guys, all they do is movies."

Hamilton also pointed out that most of Local 107's 2,400 members were not involved in the movie industry. Estimates are that no more than 200 members would be affected.

Hamilton has said the criticism aimed at him is political.

Sgrillo, in fact, has twice run unsuccessfully for union president against Hamilton. He said Saturday that he expected to run again this year.

The awarding of movie work has been disputed within Local 107 for nearly 20 years. The IRB report said that corrections that were supposed to have been made 10 years ago were never implemented, and that friends and relatives of union officials were still getting movie jobs while members with more experience were out of work.

While the work is sporadic, it is well paid.

Drivers earn about $500 a day plus overtime, and, according to most members, movie shoots often involve 18-hour workdays and significant overtime. Some members estimated that a driver who worked six months a year could earn $100,000.

Drivers shuttle actors and directors to and from locations; transport production, lighting, and camera equipment; ferry wardrobe and makeup trailers; and drive food vans.

According to members at Saturday's meeting, only 19 members of Local 107 would qualify for the upper-tier classifications proposed by the trustees.

Those individuals have until July 1 to decide whether they want to leave Local 107 and join Local 817.

About 40 members would qualify for the bottom tier, a designation that would make them "casual" or as-needed workers. It was unclear whether they also would have to opt out of Local 107.

Sgrillo, who drives a truck for a metal supply company and is not dependent on movie work, said the plan to cede the movies to Local 817 was Hamilton's attempt to shake a problem that undermined his administration.

"If he can't give the work out with favoritism and nepotism, then he doesn't want it," Sgrillo said. "If he can't have it, nobody can."